Future of migrant kids uncertain amid spike
Nitin Kumar’s eyes were full of despair as he waited along with his parents for a bus to Hardoi at Anand Vihar bus station on Friday afternoon to travel back to his hometown for the second time. Nitin left the city in June last year after the lockdown and returned again in October.
“I was so happy to be back. I could not study in the village as the internet did not work properly; besides, all my friends are here. I do not want to go back and work in the fields there,” says 12-year-old Nitin, who lives goes to a government school.
The fourth wave of Covid-19 in Delhi has costed Nitin’s father, Shyam Kumar, his job. “I have no work here. My child wants to study and stay in Delhi, but I have no choice,” says Kumar with tears in his eyes.
With the sudden spurt in the number of viral infections and work drying up, Nitin is among the scores of children of migrant workers who are returning or being forced to return to their native village once again. Last year, scores of migrant workers and their families were spotted walking on the highways or hitching a ride in crammed trucks and buses to reach their hometown after a nationwide lockdown was imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19. Over the past few months, many of the children returned to the city with their parents while others remained in their villages.
There has been limited assessment of the pandemic’s wider effects on the children of migrants. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court, in response to a petition filed by NGO Child Rights Trust, asked for data from all states and Union Territories on children of migrant workers. The petition said migrant children belong to three categories — children of migrant workers who stay behind in villages, children who are taken by the migrant workers to their place of work and children who migrate for labour of their own. “All these children have been the most vulnerable and the worst affected. Children of migrants and migrating children remain invisible... are denied access to health, proper nutrition, quality education and skills and knowledge they need to thrive and spend their lives in makeshift, unfriendly, unhygienic and testing conditions,” read the petition.
Seema Kumar, general manager (programmes) of Smile Foundation, an NGO that works for the development of underprivileged children, said, “Children of migrants have gone through emotional upheaval and stress about a lot of things-- about their parents losing jobs, the fear of contracting the disease, about not being able to continue their studies among a host of other issues.”
“We need to understand that for many of these children, school is also an opportunity to escape from the harsh realities of life in the slums. The closure of schools has had a severe emotional impact on them. Girls from the underprivileged section are particularly worried about not being able to continue their education.”
She is not exaggerating. A policy brief released by the Right to Education Forum estimates around 10 million girls are at a risk of dropping out due to the impact of Covid-19.
Rajni Mahto (14), a student of Class 10, said, “ We are two brothers and two sisters. My elder sister dropped out last year. I too may have to discontinue my studies if there is a lockdown.” In a slum cluster in Mayapuri, Koyal Kumari dreads that her mother, who works as a maid in Delhi, may soon be asked by her employers to take a break till the Covid-19 crisis is not brought under control and that may mean the end of her dreams of becoming a policewoman.
Ismail Khan (12), who lives with his mother in Dilshad Garden, says the lockdown last year haunts him till this date as his father, who suffered from tuberculosis, died during that time. “ We did not have anything to eat, forget about having money to buy medicines for him. Another lockdown will mean we will have to struggle for food again,” he said.
“In the past one year, many underprivileged children have seen the worst at a very young age–dropping out of schools to help support the family, their parents being harassed by landlords, struggling for two square meals, walking hundreds of kilometres with their parents to their villages. The worsening Covid-19 situation will only add to their woes,” said Sanjay Gupta, director of Chetna, an NGO working for poor children.
“ A lot of migrants’ children, who had left Delhi, had come back in the past few months. We have taken several measures during the Covid crisis to ensure the welfare of children. We have set up Vidhan Sabha Monitoring Committees in all assembly constituencies to ensure and proper implementation of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and make sure every child has proper access to health and nutrition,” said Ranjana Prasad, a member of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Children Rights (DCPCR) . “Our school management committees at the district-level has been continuously working to keep a track of students who are missing from schools. It also reports cases of child labour and rescues children. We also have a child helpline, where children can seek help on any issues including health, education and food,” said Prasad.