Gaya (Bihar), Feb 3 (ANI): Ramji, a student of Class 4 studying in a primary school of a remote village in Vedia, a Dalit Basti in Manpur Block of Gaya District, looks at his classmates forlornly. His fellow students have learnt the multiplication tables and are ready to be promoted to the next class while Ramji, who returned to the village after a long "vacation" of eight months, has to sit out another year in the same class to be ready for his promotion.
Perhaps the word "vacation" is a misfit here, for Ramji spent those eight months helping his labourer parents in a brick kiln in Ludhiana. Yet another migrant family in search of work.
Ramji's plight is like that of several children whose lives are seriously affected by migration - a mere phenomenon to us and a harsh reality for migrant workers.
Vedia Dalit Tola is inhabited by a hundred families. Of the three schools in the locality, one caters specially to the education needs of the children of these hundred families.
One can estimate the poor condition of education in the region by the fact that of the hundred children enrolled in the school, only 45 attend classes regularly. The rest are subjected to the vagaries of "distress seasonal migration".
In Bihar, several families are forced to migrate for months every year due to lack of work. This they do merely for survival. In this fight for survival, they are accompanied by their children, resulting in high number of school dropout cases. Migration is accepted by society as a means for survival in the lean season when there is not enough work and food available. Migrants comprise not only the economically weaker sections of the society but also those who belong to the socially backward Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe groups.
Besides the primary factors inducing migration like acute poverty and lack of livelihood options, there are some additional factors that force villagers to choose the path of migration - heavy debts, landlessness, expenses incurred in social functions like marriage and death ceremonies, to repair houses, or simply the lure of easy money.
At the working sites characterized by poor living and working conditions, these children suffer terribly from various problems, primarily inadequate shelter, health, nutrition and security. The heavy work required from labourers forces the women and children to take up the physically gruelling tasks even when the wages are very low. Also, the wages are based on piece rates and not the time spent and that is the reason why these little hands are perpetually drawn into labour process.
Migrant children are always more vulnerable than their non-migrant peers. Essentially, they don't have access to schooling and in the few cases they do, the miserable condition of government schools in such locations fails to meet their educational needs.
Normally, the migration season starts from December-January and continues till May-June. Children usually accompany their parents to other states. Those allowed to stay back in their villages have their own problems. Lack of care and affection, low food intake and other related problems affect their health adversely over time.
The migrant children are exposed to a great deal of hardships. They not only start working early but accept the challenges of a tough life. They work day and night like adults, travelling between work sites and villages.
When they return to their villages, they are tagged as "outsiders". Neither the schools nor the larger communities accept them. They are left out of the fold of development and education policies.
When asked for solutions, parents suggested construction of residential schools for their children in the migration prone areas. They also suggest the idea of introducing bridge courses to cover the gap created by the irregular access to education due to migration. Addressing the livelihood concerns of parents would ensure better enrolment, attendance and retention in schools of the children from these areas.
After school hours, there should be a provision to engage these children in extracurricular activities and sports. This will not only allow them to grow at the individual level but will teach them team spirit.
Distress seasonal migration snatches away the very right of the children to live. Education, and health are only dreams for them. Their bleak voices are blurred at the scorching work sites. They are left unheard. We need an effective solution and a strong intention to fight social evils like child labour, trafficking and their exploitation. This can be achieved by combating the problem of migration.
The Charkha Development Communication Network feels, it will not only ensure these na?ve eyes their right to dream but will promise a strong nation. By Debjani (ANI)
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