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  • Writer's pictureChild Rights Centre, CNLU

Children of Migrant Workers: Impact of the Pandemic on Vulnerable Populations

By Nikhitha Reddy* & Sejal Panakanti**

 

The havoc wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic in the whole world is a notorious fact. The ramifications have been of the most devastating kind, particularly for the vulnerable populations of the world. Turning the spotlight towards India, we can see that migrant workers and their families would fall under this ‘worst-affected’ category. While much has already been said about the migrant workers, children of these families and the impact that the pandemic continues to have on them must be given more scrutiny. The mass exodus of migrants from cities has consequently resulted in impending health and social crisis for the children of these families as well.


Migrant Miseries

With new developments and sudden restrictions enacted to restrict the spread of the virus, the migrant workers and their children are exposed to magnified health risks, displacement, lack of access to education and protection services. Forced deprivation of jobs and restrictions on travelling puts the migrants and their families on the brink of survival. Additionally, discrimination and stigmatization are widespread which could put children and families at the risk of gender-based violence, smuggling, child trafficking, harassment, and corporal violence.


Migrant children are among the most disadvantaged populations in the world. A panel discussion by UNICEF in November 2020, declared that Covid-19 is a Child Rights Crisis, given the exacerbated cases of violence and poverty in India, coupled with negative coping mechanisms including child labour, marriage and institutionalization. Moreover, as a result of the pandemic, almost 30,071 children have lost one or both parents, 24.7 million children’s education is at stake due to school closures, there is a 14.2% increase in cases of underweight children, and child abuse is steadily on the rise. Given their social and economic position, these implications are disproportionate and more impactful towards the children of migrant workers.


Detrimental Ramifications

Migrant children are highly susceptible to the immediate and secondary impacts of COVID-19. Primarily, the lack of hygiene poses a problem. Migrant workers’ children often live in overcrowded camps, settlements or makeshift centres with little to no access to water, and where they lack health services, basic resources, and sanitization. Usage of masks, social distancing and other sanitization protocols are far from being effectuated in such circumstances. Poor sanitization along with other factors such as malnutrition can create catastrophic health consequences of Covid-19 on the children of migrant workers. Migrant workers and their children could also be excluded from receiving important public health information due to language barriers and in a scenario of testing positive for Covid-19, they lack the financial means and resources to quarantine or seek health care. In addition, migrant families face challenges in accessing health care. For instance, migrant families may be deliberately avoided due to a lack of proper documentation. The children of migrant workers in such a case are less likely to be tested and provided with access to treatment.


The lockdown has forced the schools to paralyze their activities. The closure of schools and distance learning has put the children of migrants at a disadvantage. These children may lack the resources like internet connectivity, electricity, financial means and other technological devices to pursue their studies online. In addition to the consequences of disadvantaged circumstances, migrant workers children may encounter numerous obstacles in terms of accessing classrooms, language barriers, lack of parental support and a chaotic environment to study in. These difficulties can affect the future prospects to overcome poverty through their human capital, with the steady increase in school dropouts.


Children of migrant workers may particularly experience high levels of stress during the Covid-19 crisis, especially in situations where the virus has caused the death of their parents. Furthermore, these children are prone to suffer from psychological trauma, marginalization or stigma. This anxiety resulting from insecurity can have a negative impact on behaviour and learning, thereby leading to cognitive impairments and stress-related diseases. Migrant children in institutional settings are more vulnerable to suffer from anxiety and depression, especially when separated from their families. Additionally, children of migrant workers who stay back at their homes are subjected to long periods of separation from their parents due to travel restrictions. Moreover, misinformation on the aspects of lockdown and the spread of the Covid-19 virus worsens the discrimination and xenophobia that the migrant children and their families might already experience. In many instances, young migrants and their families have even been accused of bringing the virus with them.


Significance of Vulnerable Populations

Considering their special status, the Constitution of India has enacted certain special laws for children, as citizens of the country. The Constitution comprises of most rights encompassed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in the form of Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Rights. In the recent case of, Child Rights Trust v. Union of India[1], the NGO, Child Rights Trust, and child rights activist Nina Nayak filed a writ petition arguing that the fundamental rights of migrant children encompassed under Articles 14, 15, 19, 21, 21A, 39, 45 and 47 of the Constitution are being violated. The petition seeks to ensure that the children of migrant workers have access to education, protection, suitable living conditions, health care, nutrition, and immunization. The petition draws the Court’s attention to the fact that the lack of assessment on the number and essential needs of migrant children and their families has exacerbated their vulnerabilities during the lockdown. The petition establishes various obligations of the state under the rights guaranteed under the constitution and various international conventions that make such inaction unlawful. This case only goes to show that there is a pressing need to recognise the long-lasting impacts on this vulnerable population of migrant children, which when ignored, only causes more devastation.


Conclusion & Suggestions

Covid-19 has brought along with it an inhuman challenge for the millions of migrants and their families in the country. Humanitarian and strategic responses are the need of the hour with regard to this scenario. The children of these migrant workers are in a situation of double precariousness owing to their already deprived socio-economic standing. This is aggravated by broken social protection, breakdowns in mental, physical, psychosocial health, and educational shortfalls. The debt burdens of the migrant workers also loom large over these children. In light of this, to protect these vulnerable populations from issues encompassing but not limited to abuse, exploitation, nutritional insecurity, and learning crisis, it is imperative for the administration to look towards building appropriate systems, referral mechanisms, and changing social norms. States must ensure that appropriate health and economic reliefs are being provided for these children and their families. Migrant children require immediate assistance to get through these impacts of the pandemic and get a better chance at a quality life. The interests and rights of these already disadvantaged children must be safeguarded at any cost, to honour the letter and spirit of the law.


References

[1] Child Rights Trust v. Union of India 737 2020


 

*/ ** 3rd Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) students at Jindal Global Law School, Sonepat

 

(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Child Rights Centre.)

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