In India, COVID-19 pushes migrant children to work

The COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences on the economy and the labour market are severely affecting Indian families. Children are the first to suffer, as they are forced to do child labour. To assess the impact of the crisis on child labor and education, Aide et Action conducted an evaluation. The results are edifying.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. Containment to stop the spread of the virus had a devastating effect on the socio-economic situation in many countries around the world. In India, while communities, especially migrants and their families, were just beginning to recover, the second wave hit them hard and their condition deteriorated further. An assessment conducted by Aide et Action reveals that 50% of migrant children are engaged in labour to help their parents work or are paid workers.

An increase in school drop-out rates and thus in child labour

The pandemic has had a major impact on the education of migrant children since 2020. Since migrant children spend half their time on the move, they still face the challenge of schooling and are at risk of dropping out. With schools closed, migrant children have not been able to access education, either in their area of migration or in their village of origin. In this context, online courses were the only possible alternative. However, migrant children could not afford or even access online courses due to geographical and technological isolation.

A UNESCO report estimates that 40% of children are at risk of dropping out of school after the crisis. One of the collateral consequences of the pandemic is the increased need for resources within households, leading to higher drop-out rates and thus child labour.

Aide et Action's Migration Information Resource Centre conducted a rapid assessment on the situation of migrant children in 4 cities in India in April 2020 to understand the impact of the pandemic on their well-being and education. It was found that there was a significant increase in the number of children who now accompany parents to work sites due to the closure of schools in their home villages. On the work sites, due to the lack of facilities for their education, children are then exposed to various exploitations, including child labour.

Our study reveals the dramatic impact of the crisis on education

The main findings of the evaluation conducted among 109 migrant parents in 4 cities (Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Hyderabad and Patna) are as follows:

  • 92% of parents feel that the pandemic has greatly affected their children's education.
  • The prolonged closure of schools has resulted in an increase of 67% of school children forced to accompany their parents to the construction sites. The number of migrant girls is 2% higher than that of boys.
  • All children accompanying their parents in the 3-6 age group (17% of all children) were deprived of pre-school education.
  • While 18% of migrant children were not in school in the first wave of COVID-19, the increase in the second wave was 100%. The impact of school closures affects seasonal migrant children more than non-migrant children.
  • For 44% parents online courses are not affordable 
  • 28% reported that their children were not admitted to school after their return.
  • 79% of parents say they have to take their children with them to work because schools are closed due to COVID-19.
  • 45% of parents are of the opinion that schools should be opened with appropriate precautions at COVID-19, 29% of parents say that remedial classes will help children compensate for the loss of schooling.
  • According to the assessment, 50% of migrant children are engaged in work to help their parents work or are paid workers.

These migrant children are exposed to various forms of exploitation and many end up as child labourers. If education, care and protection are not provided to these children now, they will never be able to return to school and will leave the education system permanently.

Aide et Action's proposal to respond to the crisis

Aide et Action is proposing to implement an intervention to ensure uninterrupted education and care for migrant children in both the places of origin and destination in 3 states of India. The intervention consists of providing emergency nutritional support to migrant children, especially those returning to their villages of origin who are the most malnourished.

In terms of education, the project will develop reception and learning centres for children with the support of their parents' employers in the areas where these families live. The centres will provide pre-primary education for young migrants and assist them in their social, cognitive and physical development. As schools are closed due to the pandemic, remedial classes will be organised for migrant children who are repatriated to their villages of origin, in accordance with the health standards in force. Education volunteers will be hired to provide the remedial classes to fill the learning gaps.

Once back in their respective home villages, all children will be integrated into government services (nutrition, vaccination and education) in their villages. Education volunteers in the home villages will help them to re-register, get lunch and school books. On site, older children (6-14 years old) who attend school will be enrolled in local schools if they are open. If schools are closed, education volunteers will provide education on the workcamp.

The data collected from the baseline survey will be submitted to the concerned government departments for government assistance such as nutrition, mid-day meal, schooling, etc., for children, pregnant women and lactating mothers. Health campaigns will be organised at regular intervals for migrant children and their families in collaboration with the government and private hospitals for proper screening related to COVID-19. Vaccination, mother and child care, and referral of seriously ill migrants will also be carried out at the work sites to prevent them from infections.

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