Migrants' kids suffer most during Covid pandemic
Saturday, 17 July 2021 | SUDHIR MISHRA | BALANGIR
The outbreak of corona pandemic not only posed a serious threat to the healthcare system and claimed lives but also disrupted the livelihood and education of children, especially migrants' children who remain invisible to the people and administration.
Due to the unprecedented Covid-19, despite preventive measures taken up by both the State and Central Governments, thousands of migrant workers and their children including infants and adolescents faced a lot of hardship. During the first wave of the pandemic, around 10 million migrant workers were traumatised and suffered massively due to the lockdowns. The Supreme Court in April directed all States to inform about the number of migrant children and their condition on a petition seeking directions for the protection of Fundamental Rights of migrants' children amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic forced the authority to close schools and the system of imparting education was changed.
Online teaching and learning enabled through television, WhatsApp and web-based education were the options. As children of seasonal migrant workers in normal times spend half of their life in movement from source to destination, there is always a problem of enrolment and retention among them. The pandemic situation further added to their vulnerabilities. Migrants' children are disadvantaged in terms of enrolling and attending school, and are at a lower grade for their age with the disparity deepening with age progression. The Covid-19 has immensely affected the education of these vulnerable children. These children not only were excluded as usual but lost education both at source and destination. The second wave of Covid pandemic forced their migrant parents to take them along from place to place.
According to a study by Aide et Action, in 82 brick kilns in Patna, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar and Chennai and 27 construction sites in Hyderabad it was found that a majority of migrating parents are from Odisha (52 parents) followed by Telangana (23 parents) and Bihar (18 parents). Rest were from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Maharashtra. The school going age children was 56% out of 213 children there. 79per cent migrant parents informed that closure of schools due to Covid-19 compelled them to bring their school going children with them and only 11per cent of the parents said that since there was no one to take care of the children at the village, especially the girl children, they had to bring them with them.
The Covid-19 pandemic also witnessed a rise in the number of migrant children this year than the previous year. 49per cent of children were in the age group of 6-14 years who migrated along with parents this year. The reasons for the rise in the number of migrant children to worksites were closure of village school, lack of safety for girls and closure of seasonal hostels. Besides, a majority of migrant children don’t have access to online classes. "I have been migrating to brick kilns for the last two years. Since the school was closed, I took my children along with my family. However, there was no facility of education available in the worksite and my children have not received any education since I arrived," said Mahadev Sa (27) of Matiabhata Village of Khaprakhol block.
Even though some migrant families had smartphones, as they carry mobile phones to work sites, children could not avail the facility during the day time, not to mention those who are without it. More interestingly, other parents said they did not want to put additional burden on buying internet data. However, some parents lamented that even after their return they could not enrol the children in school "I could not enrol myself in the school as the school was closed," said Jharana Sahu(15) of Matiabhata village in Khaprakhol block. "I had gone to brick kiln with my parents and after my return I could not enrol myself in school as the school is closed for last two years.
Moreover I do not have smart phone .Hence I cannot avail online class," said Jharana.According to the survey, 56% of parents said they left most of their children with the grandparents. 30% did it with relatives while only 2 % of parents left their children in seasonal hostels initiated by the Government."All schools at the source should create a comprehensive database of migrant children and never enrol children and other school dropouts and a special drive for reintegration of migrant children into the education process at the source be initiated.
Government needs to encourage education volunteers to initiate remedial classes at the households for children to prepare for re-schooling," said programme manager, Aide et Action, Bhubaneswar, Saroj Barik. Moreover, the administration should take steps to accommodate the returnee migrant children and stop them from re-migrating again in the next upcoming migration cycle through expansion of seasonal hostels, opined Barik. Director of Migration and Education,Aide et Action International Umi Daniel said effective functioning of mechanism for interState coordination for migrant children’s education is badly required.
On a priority basis migrant children who have been systematically excluded from accessing the online classes and various Government entitlements like Mid Day Meal(MDM), text book, uniforms and other financial support should be provided with all facilities.
More children should be accommodated in the seasonal hostels and those migrating out should be provided education,care and protection at the destination States. Those who are recruited as child labourer at the source be prevented, rescued and effectively rehabilitated. A comprehensive migrant child monitoring and tracking drive should be undertaken as soon as possible, Daniel emphasized.