Covid-19 has affected all segments of society, whether it is industrialists, middle class citizens, farmers, workers, small traders, daily wage earners, or seasonal migrant workers. It is particularly detrimental to members of those social groups in vulnerable situations including older persons, those living in poverty, persons with disabilities, and tribal populations. AIF’s Learning and Migration Program (LAMP) focuses on access and quality of education for the children from migrating and marginalized communities, those working in difficult circumstances to earn their livelihood that too for a certain period (season) during the year. Seasonal migrants stand to suffer disproportionately due to lost employment opportunities, restricted movements and increased fears arising from lack of access to food and daily needs. Thus, Covid-19 has a greater effect on the emotional adjustment of children from these migrating communities. The needs of children from these communities is explained in more detail in this article from the field, presented by Rowena Kay Mascarenhas, Tapas Kumar Satpathy, and Vivek Wandhile.The Covid-19 outbreak happened right in the middle of a work season, leaving many seasonal migrants jobless. Most of these workers did not receive their wages, as they had to suddenly rush back to their native villages. This is not the case of a particular geography but the situation is same for almost all the seasonal migrants across the country. These seasonal migrants generally find work in salt pans, brick kilns, coal making (Kolsa) sites, sugarcane harvesting, construction labor, etc. They are trapped in a vicious circle of poverty because they borrow from money lenders to meet their ongoing requirements during the slack period of the year, and eventually have to repay it through whatever means of seasonal employment they can find for themselves. Some of these workers were able to return to their native places, but many of them are still at the place of work due to the closure of public transport. Their condition is acute since they are neither able to work nor do they have the financial resources to meet their daily needs. In this article, we seek to highlight how Covid-19 has affected the lives of children from migrating communities.
Closure of schools and Learning Resource Centers (LRCs) has meant that children no longer are engaged in traditional methods of classroom learning. The challenge of keeping children engaged in the learning process, especially in remote and rural areas, is one that needs to be approached differently. Technology would be of consideration, but in a limited way. LAMP has distributed story books from its libraries so that children can keep reading though this time. Research has shown that whenever calamities of such magnitude happen, the worst affected are girl-children who mostly never return to their schools and are pushed into child labor and child marriage.
Children from seasonal migrating communities attend school to be able to secure their mid-day meal, which assures them of at least one nutritious meal in a day. Similarly, those children who do not migrate with their parent, and prefer to stay in seasonal hostels in order to continue their education, are also assured of nutritious meals. Research has shown that children with access to nutrition perform better in school. Regular child vaccinations and immunizations are on hold, putting them at a further risk. However, due to lockdown and the closure of schools as well as hostels, these children are now left unsure of the meals that they had access to earlier. Community members and their children are facing lot of challenges to access proper food supply, health care, and an environment that promotes all-round development.
Counseling to address emotional and socio-psychological needs:
In the current scenario, the children from these communities are experiencing great challenges and turmoil, such as suddenly rushing back towards their native villages, a lack of essential food supplies, fear of being infected, no access to social security, etc. Further, they are also observing how their parents are struggling to meet the needs of the family, standing in the queues to collect the relief material where it is available, and not being able to get proper healthcare for the family. Exposed at such a young age to heart-wrenching situations where their parents themselves do not have food but ensure that their children get the food has severely impacted the psychology of these children. This is quite different from what children in other communities and segments of society are going through. Therefore, an intervention that will holistically address the needs of these children in this time of uncertainty needs to be thought of. At this point of time, socio-psychological counseling is required. And for children from the seasonal migrating communities, apart from counseling, there is a need to ensure that their rights are not compromised, such as right to live, right to protection & care, right to development, and right to participation. If these rights are not ensured, they will be left behind in the process of development, and in future they might be subject to various kinds of exploitation such as physical abuse, child labor, sexual abuse, begging etc.
Multi-sectoral Programming is the Right Approach
State Governments and local bodies have put in tremendous effort by announcing various schemes to benefit migrant communities affected by Covid-19. Most often, these community members cannot take the benefit due to lack of awareness and access. In the current scenario, a sector specific approach may not work as the challenges faced by these community members and their children are wide-ranging and they require assistance from multiple agencies. For example, if the focus is only on healthcare, and at the same time if livelihood opportunities are not generated with the community, then it will result into number of other issues such as malnutrition, poor growth and low learning levels among the children, leading to the same vicious circle of poverty that their debt-ridden parents are in. The need of the hour is to demonstrate a multi-sectoral approach across health, education, and livelihoods to ensure holistic development of the children which could be run on pilot-mode in a few geographies and later taken to scale by replicating the model in other needy areas.
Case Story – AIF’s Interventions
This is a story of four sibling orphans: Ranjita, Sandeep, Sangita, and Bipin. Their parents were seasonal migrant workers from one of the LAMP’s intervention villages in Dang district. The eldest is Ranjita, a 15-year old girl child. She is a school dropout as she had to take care of the other three siblings after the death of their father as well as mother. Ranjita is malnourished, she has anemia and was recently hospitalized requiring blood transfusion. The second sibling Sandeep, is a weak and sickly child. He continued his school education till Grade 8 and could not secure admission to high school last year because he did not have the mandatory attendance required, due to continued illness. Though their uncle Daudbhai, a migrant worker, is taking care of these siblings, he does not have the financial capacity to provide for his own family and that of the orphaned children. AIF’s LAMP field team stepped in to linked the two younger siblings Sangita & Bipin to Palak Mata-Pita Yojana (Caretaker Parent Scheme OR Foster Parents Plan) of the Gujarat Government, and now they receive financial support of INR 3000/- per month. This scheme will benefit them only till the time they continue their education as it applies only to those who are in an institutional environment. Unfortunately, the two elder siblings Ranjita & Sandeep could not benefit from this opportunity, as they are not continuing their education.
LAMP is working with such children who are deprived of the basic rights such as sufficient nutrition, medical care, social security, and a caring environment. The Covid-19 pandemic demands that we take a holistic program approach, which will cover education, health and sustainability aspects. Otherwise it is quite likely that such children will either get into child labor to support the needs of their families. At this point of time, it requires a collective effort by various stakeholders including the donors, partners, school principals, community health workers and parents to address these issues through multi sectoral approach.
Rowena Kay Mascarenhas, Director Communications and Advocacy. Rowena holds the global responsibility for overseeing the development and implementation of AIF’s marketing, communications, and advocacy strategies across the Head Office, Country Office and Regional Offices. Her two decades work experience as a communications professional span the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors including organizations such as Oxford University Press, Crompton Greaves, and Global Telesystems.
Tapas Kumar Satpathy, State Program Manager, LAMP Gujarat. Tapas has 20 years of professional experience working on various development issues with corporate and civil society organisations.He holds a PGDPM and LLB from Sambalpur University.
Vivek Wandhile, Project Manager, LAMP Gujarat. Vivek has, over the last 14 years, worked with various development organizations on different programs mostly in Gujarat including managing Self Help Groups in SEWA, skills training projects with SAATH, and IIJT Education (a Team Lease group company).