How about schools on wheels for them?

In Odisha, children of parents migrating outside the state for work are adding to the dropout problem. The state seems to have done precious little about it


Pradeep Baisakh | January 18, 2013

Children from Odisha attend a class in a school in Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh
Children from Odisha attend a class in a school in Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh

Kasturi Majhi left Tentulikhunti, her village, in Odisha’s Balangir district, to work in a brick kiln along with her parents in Andhra Pradesh. She was 11, old enough for work that could supplement her household income. But Majhi was also of an age when she should have been in school. A year later, her parents and she are a little consoled by the fact that she got to attend classes at a ‘worksite’ school run on the premises of the Dundigal primary school in Quthbullapur mandal of Rangareddy district in Andhra Pradesh.

However, Majhi’s case is an exception, not the norm. Such luck eludes almost 25,000-30,000 children from districts in western Odisha (Balangir, Nuapada, Kalahandi, Bargarh) who migrate seasonally with their parents for work. Most of them fail to get regular education and eventually drop out altogether. Many of them are unable to secure admission in the first place because the language of instruction is not the one they know.
Distress migration, in search of work, is common in western Odisha districts. Poverty-stricken families leave their homes for some money working in degrading conditions in cities in coastal Odisha or in neighbouring states. Balangir, Kalahandi and Nuapada, part of the imfamous KBK (undivided Kalahandi, Balangir, Koraput) region, have high incidences of malnutrition. There have been reports of parents selling their children, unable to provide food. According to the 55th national sample survey organisation (NSSO) survey, poverty in the region hit an alarming high of 87.1 percent at the turn of the millennium (1999-2000). The area has a high population of scheduled tribes and scheduled castes, both vulnerable groups.

Starvation has been endemic in the region as agriculture has been wrecked by continuous droughts. Social factors like caste discrimination, uneven land distribution and deforestation have also furthered the problem. Welfare schemes like rural employment guarantee and public distribution system of subsidised grains have not benefitted as many people as they should have — the government has failed to implement them with earnest. So, the chronic poverty and starvation in the area have become the ‘push’ factor for migration of families like Majhi’s. People try and flee, exchanging the conditions at home for the brutality of work at kilns and construction sites. Those from Balangir and Nuapada, studies reveal, leave for brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.  Some may migrate to Bhubaneswar, the state capital, and the neighbouring Cuttack. A study conducted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Aide et Action International (AeAI) in 100 villages in six blocks in Balangir, Nuapada, and Kalahandi in 2011-12 found that 85 percent of the migrants from Nuapada and Balangir leave for work in brick kilns while in Kalahandi, the figure stands at 62 percent. Almost 80 percent of the total migrants from the three districts leave for employment outside Odisha.

Vulnerability of migrants

The migration to brick kilns is characterised by advance payments which ranges from Rs 15,000 to Rs35,000 per pathuria-the work unit, that constitute two adult members and a child. In the brick kiln sector, child labour takes place by design, not by default. By taking advance money the workers tacitly keep themselves in bondage (locally known as bahu bandhak) for six to seven months. The transport of labourers takes place in an entrenched system of middlemen who give the advance to the workers on behalf of the kiln owners in AP, TN and elsewhere. The middlemen charge the owner for each unit of workers. The ILO-AeAI study shows that about 26 percent of the total households in these three districts migrate out for work. (This is ascertained from the migration tracking registers being maintained by the NGOs in the 100 villages studied by ILO and AeAI.) Among these, as many as 24 percent are children in the age group of 0-17 years. The children in the age group of 6-14 constitute about 11 percent of the total migrant population. This is the age group that is now entitled to get compulsory primary education under the much-hyped Right to Education Act. As much as 18 percent of the total labour force migrating from the villages are child labourers. It has been observed that any child above the age of 6 or 7 works along with his/her parents.

Inter State Migrant Workmen’s (regulation of employment and conditions of service) Act, 1979, the law regulating inter-state migration for employment in the unorganised sector, mandates the registration of the middlemen who hire such labour. The registration is to be done at the district labour office. However, in the absence of proper institutional mechanism for labour registration and half-hearted monitoring, a major chunk of labourers migrate illegally. The gullible labourers, who are already bound by the commitments of meeting stiff targets, are more often than not subjected to several forms of physical, mental and verbal harassment by their employers. The women and children, as always, remain particularly vulnerable.

Recently, a three-year-old migrant child called Pappu from Nuapada who had migrated to Nellore district of Andhra, died in suspicious circumstances. A Telugu daily, Andhra Prabha, reported it on March 23 as a suspected case of human sacrifice.

Quantifying the migrant children

In the absence of proper tracking mechanism of the migrant workers and children, it is quite difficult to get exact estimates of their numbers. The government data provided by labour offices (as mentioned in the reply to question in the Odisha assembly in 2011) suggest that there are 290 labour contractors in four districts – Balangir, Kalahandi, Nuapada and Bargarh. According to government data, the number of migrant labourers from Balangir is 33,035; from Nuapada, it is 4,786; from Kalahandi, it is 4,256; and from Bargarh, it is 596. These are, however, highly underestimated figures.

A UNDP research paper titled ‘Migration and Human Development 2009’ quoting sources from Action Aid suggests that about 2 lakh people migrate from western Odisha to Andhra Pradesh alone. An unpublished survey done by the district administration of Nuapada in 2008 suggests that 30,000 people migrate annually (source: Abani Panigrahi, Lok Drishti, a NGO based in Nuapada district). If 11 percent of the migrants are children in the age group of 6-14, the number comes to around 22,000 from Balangir and Nuapada alone.

Initiatives for education of migrant children

Seasonal migration in western Odisha begins in October/November of the base year with the migrant labourers returning to their villages in June/July of the next. The seasonality does not match with the academic year. As the annual exams of the schools take place in March/April, most of the children who migrate out of state miss the annual test. The ones who migrate to Bhubaneswar or Cuttack areas of Odisha can come back home during that period and appear in the exams. But most of the inter-state migrant children were forced to repeat the class upon their return. There are several cases where such children eventually dropped out from schools becoming full-time labourers. Now, however, since the rigid linkage between exam and elevation to next level has been obviated under the RTE Act, children are upgraded to the next class after appearing in a special test. However, for many, continuing in schools becomes meaningless as they miss out regular classes for nearly seven months.

Two models have been experimentally implemented to try and stem the dropout phenomenon caused by migration. One is the model of ‘seasonal hostels’ at source areas to stop children of migrants from leaving with the parents during the migration season. And the other is ‘work site schools’ run in the destination areas, at the work sites, where the children can learn in a medium of instruction that they are familiar with.

Seasonal hostels

In western Odisha the seasonal hostels, locally named as residential care centre (RCC), started in 2001-02. Initially, many NGOs in Balangir and Nuapada districts ran RCCs with the support of government and international donor agencies. It worked quite well initially. Abani Panigrahi of Lok Drishti, a NGO which has pioneered in running RCC in the area says, “At one point, there were more than 70 RCCs run by the government and NGOs, accommodating about 1,400 children in Nuapada.” The figure for RCCs in Balangir district was more than 300 accommodating about 6,000 students, informs Sanjay Mishra from Balangir. But now, due to apathy of the state government, most of the government-run RCCs have been discontinued in these two districts. In the last academic year (2011-12), barely 10 RCCs were run retaining about 200 students in Balangir and there were none in Nuapada district though there were some run by NGOs. Moreover, the government-run RCCs start operation in January/February when all the migrant children would have left with their parents.

Krishna Gopal Mohapatra, the special project director (SPD) to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Odisha, says, “This time we have got the budget approval from the central government (65 percent of a state’s SSA budget comes from the central pool) for running seasonal hostels in Balangir, Nuapada and Bargarh districts for 5,389 migrant children.”

Work site schools

The model of providing education to the children of the migrating parents near the work site in their own language started almost during the same time as the seasonal hostels. Some NGOs like Action Aid and Aide et Action have been running work site schools for Odia children in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. In fact, Andhra Pradesh has travelled quite some distance on this. In the last academic year (2011-12), Andhra SSA claims to have provided education to 6,453 Odia migrant children alone. Madhusudan V, officer on special duty (OSD) in the department of school education, Andhra Pradesh, says, “In the last academic year we provided education to about 21,070 inter-state migrant children who have come from Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Maharastra etc.” Aide et Action is the nodal NGO partner of the AP government to manage the show with the help of more than 140 local NGOs. For providing education to Odia children in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, Odia teachers and Odia text books are supposed to be supplied by the Odisha SSA to AP and TN under an inter-state arrangement. The NGOs facilitate this process. However, there is a visible lack of coordination between Odisha and AP. During 2011-12, AP complained that despite repeated reminders, Odisha did not send them the textbooks. Officials at the Odisha SSA admit that there is a lot more that needs to be done on the inter-state coordination aspect. “We are working out an action plan for ensuring the education of Odia children in other states,” says Mahapatra. In Tamil Nadu 430 Odia migrant children were provided education last academic year by Aide et Action.

The challenge, however, remains ensuring the Right to Education for all the migrant children. The current coverage is a very small part of the total number of children in need of such education. Besides, both the models of education are now running on an ad hoc arrangement. Institutionalisation of the same and ensuring quality education are areas which need to be seriously looked into by the policy makers of the concerned state governments.

Umi Daniel of Aide et Action says, “We need to have a larger policy debate on ‘portability of rights’ or ‘roaming access’ to rights and entitlements by the migrant population. To start with, the governments can focus on providing elementary education, facilities under ICDS and health provisions under NRHM.”

This report first appeared in the November 1 issue of Governance Now.



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