Education is considered a fundamental universal human right all over the world. The Indian government has also inserted Article 21A in the Constitution and brought The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (“RTE”) recognizing education as a fundamental right and mandates free elementary for the children between the ages 6 to 14 years. However, as per the Census Report of 2011, the number of dropout children in the age group 5-17 years stood at 8.4 crores. In yet another study conducted by the National Sample Survey Organization (“NSSO”), the percentage of children out of school was 16.1%.

Migration refers to the “An individual who has changed their usual place of residence, either by crossing an international border or moving within their country of origin to another region, district or municipality.”

For the present article, migration is confined to mean the inter-state migration due to socio-economic reasons. Kailash CDas and SubhasisSaha (2013)point out employment, education, business, marriage, etc.as,a few of the significant reasons for inter-state migration. The interstate migration doubled from 2001-2011, thus putting a lot of children under the risk of access to no proper education.

The family migrates to gain better employment in other states. However, it has often resulted in affecting the education of the children of migrant workers because the family can migrate at any time during the year.  

Seasonal migration is also very high due to a lack of employment opportunities at the native place of the migrant’s families, which forces families or individuals to relocate. In such situations, the education of the child gets affected, whether it is seasonal or permanent migration because migration happens in the middle of the academic session. Irrespective of whether it is partial or total migration (partial- children left behind, parents migrate, total- whole family migrates) as in case of partial migration also, children are burdened with household or other work and a lack of oversight ensues.

  1. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act guarantees free and compulsory education for all the children aged 6-14 years, including that of migrant workers. The Act provides for the establishment of elementary schools. It mandates the government and the local authorities to establish elementary schools in their neighborhood within three years of the enactment of this Act.

Since the enactment of RTE, the state has been made responsible for ensuring the education of children falling in the age bracket. There are various impediments to the fulfillment of the right to education. Often, we tend to focus on issues such as lack of infrastructure, teacher-student absenteeism, poor student-teacher ratio, farming seasons, and so on. The continuation of education is adversely affected due to the migration of the family.Even though the Act mandates the migrant children to be admitted to the school,many obstacles stand in the way of education to migrant children. 

  1. SarvaShikshaAbhiyan (SSA)

It is an Indian government program, designed for the universalization of elementary education. It was implemented in coordination with the States and UTs. The program has successfully set up many primary and upper primary schools across the country. It has also facilitated setting up many residential schools and hostel facilities too. The states are required to conduct household surveys to identify the children who are out of school. To facilitate the learning of children of seasonal migrant workers,it has set up many non-residential training centers, hostels, mid-day meals, free books, and uniforms.

  1. The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights

It is a statutory body enacted by the parliament to protect, promote, and defend the child’s rights. It has the powers equivalent to that of a civil court. It inquires and investigates any complaint made regarding the child’s right to free and compulsory education, among many other functions. 

Why is education still a luxury for most of the migrant children?

While India has made efforts to improve the accessibility of education to as many migrant children as possible, it is still a far-fetched dream. The RTE Act, 2009, has made it mandatory for the local authorities to admit the migrant children even if they lack the requisite documents. It provides for flexible enrollment in schools, hostel facilities, free books, mid-day meals, etc. to facilitate their learning and growth, yet in practice, it is failing. The SarvaShikshaAbhigyan and the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights have also proved to be insufficient in reaching their targeted goal. 

Even though the guidelines have been provided, yet few States actively engage in the strict implementation of the rules. The problem lies not only with the government or the policies but also with the attitude of the local authorities, the schools, and, most importantly, the parents. 

Right to education denied to the children of migrant workers 

The children of migrant families, especially the seasonal migrants, are often denied their right to education. According to the GEM 2019 report, about 80% of temporary migrant children in many Indian cities did not have access to educational institutions near work sites. The report points out that most developing countries, including India, are a long way from guaranteeing good qualityeducation for migrant children.

Issues that need to be addressed 

The stakeholders involved in this situation can be parents, schools, local authorities (state government) who may not be complying with their responsibilities under the law. Based on the stakeholders involved, three issues form the core of the problem to their education.

  1. The First issue 

What are the problems (infrastructural access, the efficiency of the learning process due to possible language barrier, sensitivity towards their needs and conditions, grievance redressal, unavailability of any bridge courses) that migrant children face in access to education?

Problems faced by migrant children 

  1. As per the UNESCO report, migrant children have to drop out of school most of the time or lose a year and start over again in the same class because of non-enrollment in the current academic year in a new school. 
  2. One of the most prominent reasons for not sending their children to school is the lack of awareness of parents about free and compulsory education and other incentives like mid-day meals, free uniforms, books, and monthly stipend available to children in government-run schools. 
  3. Financial constraints and inability to meet expenses of schooling, like transportation is also one of the major factors behind not sending their children to school. Many parents are restricted by illiteracy and their apprehension about all the paper-work involved and documentation required to get their children/ward admitted in the schools.
  4. The living conditions due to poverty and migration also become a significant hindrance tothe education of children. Many of the school-going and non-school going children of migrant workers live in rented accommodations with their parents/wards in one room shared by 5 to 6 family members. 
  5. The lack of access to education and dropout is often attributed to poor and illiterate parents’ attitudes towards education. Many parents who want to send their children to school or continue their education are often unable to due to various reasons. 
  6. The main problem that the school going migrated children face is concerning the class or standard in which they supposed to get admitted; they also have to repeat classes due to migration in the middle of their academic session. Some of them have to skip studies of the entire academic course and get admitted to the next class without having the required knowledge and academic qualification to attend the same.
  7. Children of seasonally migrating families are unable to continue their schooling, even for a year in the same academic session, as their families would migrate every 3 to 4 months. 
  8. The tiring bureaucracy, documentation requirements in the schools can be an ultimate discouraging factor. Children attending school at the time of admission can sometimes be asked to produce documents such as Transfer Certificate and Adhaar card, i.e., UDI for admission. All thisis still asked for in some elementary schools despite a clear guideline under the Right to Education Act that no child (below the age of 14 years) shall be turned away from admission for lack of documentation. 
  9. Another problem faced the children is being unable to adapt to the new environment, curriculum, and language. They sometimes face racial discrimination too, which furthers acts as a barrier to their smooth transition to a set of circumstances. 
  10. Getting support from the school teachers is also rare because they do not often actively engage with the students on a personal level, which is very important from child psychology. 
  1. The Second issue 

What are the obligations of State government & local authorities towards the education of children 6-14years of age, with particular focus under the Right to Education Act? Whether they comply with the obligations towards migrant children?

  • Section 9 (k) of RTE requires the local authority to ensure the admission of children from migrant families. There is no mechanism existing in the system as of now to provide support to the migrant families. The Commissions often suffer from a resource crunch in this regard and, therefore, require the assistance of NGOs in collecting data to comply with the RTE.
  1. The Third Issue 

Whether the school authorities have specific responsibilities vis-à-vis migrant children? Whether they are fulfilling their obligations?

  • The school authorities offer flexibility in the admission of a migrant child to the school in case of documents not being readily available. Often the teachers are unaware of the additional responsibilities they have towards the migrant children and hence do not provide them the specialized care they need when admitted. The teachers are also not equipped with specialized training that they need to deal with children who migrated from a different zone. 

Suggestions

  1. It is incumbent upon local authorities and schools to initiate the information, education, and communication campaign to spread awareness around the education and schooling of children since many parents are unaware of the government-aided schools.
  2. It will be productive if local authorities make sure that the homeless migrant families living in their areas are provided access to shelter homes that are safe and hygienic. 
  3. To make the transition smooth and easy for migrant children who move mid-session, all schools should start special classes and introductory sessions.
  4. Teachers in government schools should be imparted adequate training to deal withmigrant children and their needs.
  5. There should be an updated database of the migrant children aged 6-14 years in the public domain, so that is easier for the concerned authorities to look into. 

Conclusion

Looking at the current scenario, it can be clearly seen that there is no proper mechanism to address the vulnerability of migrants, let alone the education of their children. The migrant families’ first priority is to look for jobs for mere survival. Once and if they are settled in that regard, then they proceed with the other things. Seasonal migrations cause the family to oscillate from one place to another every 3-4 months. They often leave their children behind to look after the household work. It becomes important for the children to stay back at home to take care of their younger siblings and manage the house. Their involvement in household chores becomes rather a necessity. Children of migrant parents are always on the verge of dropping out of school for one or the other reasons. The government is failing to tackle the issue of intermigration and transnational migration. The concept of mobile teachers provided under the SarvaSikshaAbhigyan does not have practical viability. This is a pressing need of the hour that the education of migrant children should be a mainstream mission for the government. It should be channelized either through formal or non-formal education arrangements. 

About the author

Komal Shrivastava is currently pursuing her masters from NUJS, Kolkata. The academician world inspires her a lot and aspires to be a part of it super soon.

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