Jharana Sahu, 13, of Matia Bhata village of Bolangir district wanted to study and has a dream to become a teacher. But since last year, neither has she opened her books nor learnt any lesson. Just couple of days ago, she returned from Telangana. She accompany her parents every year to Telengana, where her parents were working in a brick kiln unit. Her father Balram Sahu and mother Lobhabati Sahu are landless agriculture labourers in the village. With no source of livelihood support, they have to migrate every year. Due to the pandemic, Jharana’s school was closed last year and she could not attend classes.
“I was enrolled in my village school but every year when I go with my parents, I find name among the dropped out. I get enrolled again. It was then difficult to catch all the lessons but now it is more difficult because the school is closed. My name must have been dropped again from the register. My parents do not have money to buy mobile for me to attend the online classes,” Jharana lamented.
Pushpa Nag, 12, of Belpada block of Bolangir district is another girl who returned last week with her family that had migrated to Tamil Nadu to work in a brick kiln unit. Due to the pandemic, they had to stay back last year in the brick kiln unit but they have returned now. Puspa was enrolled in a village school but attending classes has become a dream for her for the last two years.
“I want to go back to school but the school is closed and we can’t afford android mobile for the online classes. In this situation, I think I have to leave studies forever,” said Pushpa while sounding sad.
Jharana and Pushpa are among the thousands of migrant children of Odisha who are deprived of their basic Right to Education.
The outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has posed serious threats to worldwide. Apart from the health emergency, the lives and livelihood of many have got shattered since last year due to the virus.
The first wave of corona had exposed the unprecedented migrant crisis in the country, but hardly any attention was paid to children of migrants who have to move with their parents and there is a greater chance of missing out on their vital, developmental aspects, especially education. Children of the migrant families, who accompanied their parents like Jharana and Pushpa, are extremely vulnerable to cope up with the situation.
According to the government report, the first wave left 10 million migrant workers traumatised and suffered massively due to the lockdowns. Now, it comes at the cost of the most marginalised children. The Supreme Court of India in April 2021, directed all states to inform it about the number of migrant children and their condition on a plea seeking directions for the protection of their fundamental rights amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. These children, too often remain invisible to the administration and forgotten during the COVID-19 response.
A UNESCO report estimates that 40% children tend to drop out from school post Covid-1.0 and 2.0 crisis. Needless to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has left a huge impact on the education of migrant children (since 2020). The closures of the schools due to pandemic has transformed the classroom teaching into online teaching which is being enabled through the television, WhatsAap and web based education. As children of seasonal migrant workers spend half of their lives in movement from source to destination, there is always the problem of enrolment and retention among them. Now, the pandemic has added more woes to their vulnerabilities.
Population of Migrant Children
According to an estimate, based on the 2011 Census, NSSO surveys and economic Survey show that there are a total of about 65 million inter-state migrants and 33 per cent of these migrants are workers. According to the state government estimates, about 10 lakhs migrants in Odisha who are working in different part of the country and a sizeable chunk of them are seasonal migrants. But the Non-Governmental Organizations working on the field of migration have estimated that the number is about 20 lakh. More than 70 percent of them are from the Poverty stricken, Hunger zone of K-B-K (undivided Kalahandi -Bolangir – Koraput. Even if we can take Govt’s figures on account, out of 10 lakhs Odia migrants’ 15 percent means 1.5 lakhs are children.
Migrant 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 unintended consequence of the current pandemic is that due to the lockdown, the public eye finally shifted its gaze to those who have been living on the margins. Rather, it is a vicious cycle of poverty asking more hands that can labour leading to increase in drop out and retention rates consequently resulting in child labour as well.
Aide et Action’s Findings On the education of Migrant children
According to a detail study conducted by MIRC unit of Aide et Action, Bhubaneswar on the pandemic impact on the education of Odisha’s Migrant children, there is an increase of 69% of migrant children this year than the previous year out which 49% of children are in the age group of 6-14 years of age who migrate this year but at the source area last year followed by 20 % in the age group of 14-18 years and 19% in the age group of 3 -6 years. 79% migrant parents compelled to bring their school going age children with them as the schools were closed due to COVID-19.
Though various age group children migrate with their parents, but as per the assessment, 53% of the parents said that they prefer only to take school dropout children while 29% said that they take under 6 years age children. It is obvious that when the whole family is migrating the parents cannot leave the young children with someone at the village.
In this study, 43% of the parents said that they leave behind their school going age children. However, there are 54% of parents who do not leave behind their children. But this time, 100% of their children are at the worksites.
As the seasonal migration starts in the month of November–December, the migrant families have migrated prior to the outbreak of pandemic. Hence, 56% migrants left their children with their grant parents followed by 30% left with their relatives. Only 2% migrants have migrated leaving their children in seasonal hostels initiated by the education department to retain the children in schools. Children, who are accompanying and left behind, both are impacted the most due to the pandemic.
The study report further stated that Covid-19 has affected children’s education in multiple way- 92 % of the parents feel that. Parents said that they are aware that the school is going to impart education through online but as they cannot afford buying the internet data for the classes, their children could not access education. Those whose parents poses smart phone, take it to the work so the children cannot access it in the day time. Most of them don’t want to afford to take any additional financial burden in buying internet data.
According to the study, 44% of the parents said that online classes are not affordable to them while 28% of the parents said that their children who returned with them didn’t get admission at the village school due to school closures with the declaration of the lockdown last year.
The school closure and accompanying parents to worksites are forcing children to enter into the labour force as a very tender age. The study revealed that 50% of the parents have engaged their children in work where as 26% of parents said that their child is engaged in taking sibling care and 20% of parents who said their children attend worksite schools which are run by NGOs with the support of worksite owners. 45% of the parents want that the government should take initiative to open school with COVID appropriate precautions both at their source and destination locations where as 29% suggested for the remedial classes once the child returns back to the village. 19% suggest that government should set up community bridge class/tutorials for the children while 7 % suggest that the school teachers should make home visits to oversee the progress of the child after their return.
“The situation is definitely a matter of concern because the Education of thousands of migrant children is at a stake. Government of Odisha has been retaining close to 30% of the school going children in seasonal hostels. But during the pandemic, the seasonal hostels were closed for two consecutive seasons; as a result, overwhelming numbers of children migrated during the pandemic with their parents. From western Odisha only, approximately 20-25 thousand children accompany and migrate with their parents to the brick kiln located inside and outside Odisha,” Umi Daniel, thematic head, Migration, Aide et Action, a non-government organization explains.
“Government must identify migrant children and put them into seasonal hostel and facilitate remedial education for the returnee children and enroll the aged children into state open schools. Coordinate with destination state and with the state to make education available for migrant children at the destination. Otherwise more and more children will get excluded from education and will join the informal workforce. Child marriage will increase as migrant may need more working hand and domestic support at destination. India will have more and more unskilled and under paid labourers on the bottom layers of labour market,” stated Daniel.