Dreams Shattered: Impact of COVID-19 on Migrant Child Labourers

Reading time: 10 minutes.

 “Hope is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light!”

INTRODUCTION

The world is wrestling with the horrifying consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has led to a huge loss of life and property all around the globe. There is decay in the entire social and economic system of every country, especially India. Each day people are losing their employment and their source of livelihood. The government of every country is trying to contain the spread of the virus by imposing certain measures including the practice of social distancing and a nationwide lockdown. Due to the increase in cases the lockdown in India was further extended, leaving millions of citizens helpless. Daily bread earners and migrant workers were the most impacted in this situation. The recent scenes of thousands of migrant workers walking hundreds of kilometres barefoot, climbing onto trains and buses with their luggage in hands and children in their arms to reach their villages was really heart wrenching. According to them there was nothing left in the cities to survive on.

“The rich will get all the help, but we poor migrant labourers will have to manage ourselves. This is the price of our lives”, said a weeping migrant struck in Delhi who could not see his son for the last time, who died in Bihar.

IMPACT ON CHILDREN

There are approximately 15 million migrant children in India.[1] These children move along with their parents in search of work and sustenance as per their migration cycle. The recorded data states that today they are affected the most because of the lockdown. A report of the United Nations has categorised the repercussions on children into Poverty, Health, Survival, Education and Safety.

CRISIS ON EDUCATION-

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 guarantees free and compulsory education to every child from the age group of 6 to 14 years. The migrant workers children have always faced troubles in completing their education. Their right to education always remains compromised because of the interventions in their schooling due to intra or interstate migrations. The Corona virus lockdown has added to their misery. Many children have made their way back to their native places, leaving behind the question regarding their education. As a part of the lockdown, the government has shut down all the educational institutions. This has increased the possibility that migrant children would never return back to their schools thereby contributing to the increase in dropout rates.

ONLINE CLASSES: BEYOND THE REACH FOR MANY-

“In a country like India, where people don’t have food to eat, who is going to buy smart phones or recharge their phones with expensive internet packs so that their children can learn online?

Aruna Roy, Social Activist.

The traditional classroom learning has now been replaced by online delivery. The access to online assets and resources are unattainable to many families. India has a huge digital split where rural and poor families have no approach to even proper electricity. As per the National Survey Sample Office report of 2017-18,[2] only 10.7 per cent Indians have laptops and computers and only 23.4 per cent have an access to internet. In rural area it is just 4 per cent. Both smart phones/laptops and internet packs require money. Many migrant parents have already lost their jobs and are struggling to make a living. In this state buying such gadgets is a luxury for them far beyond their reach. Therefore many students are left out, leading to a huge gap in their studies and attendance. Not just this but these parents are uneducated so they are very new to the concept of online learning. Rajesh, a construction labourer had not idea about what a smart phone meant until his daughters teacher asked him to make her join the online class. Families with one phone and multiple children also are facing huge difficulties. While one child is attending his/her class, others are compelled to skip theirs. Therefore the scheme of online mode during these times has thrown migrant children into an enormous anguish.

NO SCHOOL, NO MID DAY MEAL-

The Coronavirus pandemic has further aggravated starvation and malnourishment of these children. The Mid day meal scheme was initiated to serve tasty nutritious food to children in government run schools in order to avoid classroom hunger and increase the school enrolment. With schools being closed, there are no meals served. For the poor kids this food was a chief source of nutrition.

 POVERTY: A WAY LEADING TOWARDS CHILD LABOUR AND CHILD MARRIAGE-

With increase in figures of unemployment and poverty there is a massive pressure on the migrants parents to send their children to work, to support the entire household. Since there is an uncertainty as to the reopening of schools many parents prefer sending their kids to work in fields, hazardous factories, stalls, pick rags or beg on streets. The general trend is that whenever there is a decrease in school enrolment there has always been a massive rise in child labour. Even if things come back to normal, there is no guarantee that parents would resume their child’s education because they are left without any money. Many children will have to continue working for their families. Also there exists a general belief that children cannot be infected with the virus easily as compared to grownups. There is also a huge decrease in the female literacy rate. Girls are kept at home to cook, take care of their siblings and look after the household. Unfortunately there is also a spike in child marriages. Parents are marrying off their daughters because they are left jobless and also because they will have to spend less, if it is done during the lockdown. The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development reported around 5200 cases from the month of March to May. Maharashtra and TamilNadu witnessed highest number of cases during the lockdown. Girls are considered as a financial load and with the growing economic annoyance; the instances of sex selective abortions are also on the rise. In Uttar Pradesh, in the month of September a father of 5 daughters ripped off his pregnant wife’s stomach only to find out the baby’s gender. There is a gross violation of The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986; The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 and The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994.

IMPACT ON HEALTH AND SAFETY-

The Covid-19 has also led to disastrous consequences on health. Many children died due to exhaustion and food shortage. Recently, a 12 year old girl died after walking continuously for 3 days. She was critically dehydrated and malnourished. Migrant Children are currently living in overcrowded surroundings with limited or no means to shelter, water, food, sanitation and hygiene. They are more likely to get infected in such conditions. Many children have also encountered a lot of deaths and severe injuries in their family which has impacted them mentally. As far as safety is concerned, cases of child physical as well as sexual abuse and exploitation are on an increase. Little girls are left alone at home while parents go in search of work. Cases of rapes and assaults are increasing day by day. Children are also being trafficked and sold in exchange of money. In Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh young girls are sold for a meagre amount of Rs.150-200 every day. The coronavirus has entirely triggered the safety of these poor kids.

A SILVER LINING TO THE DISTRESS: EFFORTS INITIATED-

Amidst the lockdown massive efforts have been taken to help these migrant workers and their children. Many NGO’s are coming forward to provide them with food, masks, sanitizers and other commodities. Many schools are taking steps to ensure education to them. In Kerala teachers are visiting migrant homes and teaching the kids with the help of pre-recorded lectures. Many organisations have also supplied books and stationary to them. Many social activists have even distributed smart phones to them. Social health activists are also helping in monitoring their health by providing free medical check-ups and medicines. However all this is yet to reach many households.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS-

The past few months have been like a worst nightmare for our migrant brothers and sisters. The on-going lockdown has undoubtedly distorted the lives of many vulnerable groups and has led to a public outcry. It is a call to the authorities to immediately come up with sound policies and schemes for these people. There has to be a strict vigilance on the matters of child labour, child marriage and child abuse. Health and safety issues of the children should be tackled with prime attention.

As far as the idea of education post Covid-19 is concerned, the Right to Education of these migrant children need to be safeguarded at any cost. I believe the following points have to be considered by the decision makers.

  1. The schools should prepare a database to trace the students who have moved back to their villages and try to get in contact with them to resume schooling through online mode.
  2. Free textbooks, study materials, phones and meals should be distributed to maximum students.
  3. Community televisions and radios can be used as a mode for conveying the lessons.
  4. Special bridge courses and remedial classes can be introduced for those students who missed on studies all this while.
  5. Teachers can be deployed at migrant sites to teach children with proper precautions.
  6. Fresh or Re-admission procedures can be relaxed. Except for identity proof no other documents such as transfer certificate should be asked by the schools.
  7. Once the school reopens teachers should not rush with the syllabus. These children should be given some time to heal from the past trauma. Interactive sessions can be conducted to cheer them up.
  8. Lastly, until their parents are provided with employment, these children won’t come back to school. So it is important to provide jobs to these migrant labourers as well so that they can manage their household without the help of their children.

We as responsible citizens of our country also have a role to play. Collaborations, cooperation and unity from our side can help ensuring safety, health and protection to these poor people. We can help them in building a new life, sending their children to school/resume their education and contribute to the nation because,

“what the world needs right now is Solidarity. With Solidarity we can defeat the virus and build a better world![3]

Author: Siddhi Gokuldas Naik, Student of First Year LLM, V.M.Salgaocar College of Law, Miramar- Panaji, Goa. 

Siddhi Gokuldas Naik

[1]Daniel 2011, Smita 2011: Available at-unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/FIELD/New-Delhi/Images/gymflyerrev.pdf :Visited on-07/07/2020.

[2] https:// http://www.thequint.com/news/education/coronavirus-how -can -india- send- children-of- migrant- workers- back- to- school: Visited on-09/07/2020 at 5.27pm.

[3] Quote by: General Antonio Guterres (Secretary- United Nations):Available at-un.org/coronavirus:Visited on 09/07/2020.

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