Given below are excerpts from a significant research paper, “Children’s welfare and short term migration from rural India” based on primary survey in 70 villages of five neighbouring districts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Authored by Diane Coffey, who is with the Population Research & Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, and Centre for Development Economics, Delhi School of Economics, the paper analyses difficult circumstances faced by children of short-term labour migrants:
The survey covered 70 villages in five districts: Banswara and Dungarpur in Rajasthan, Jhabua and Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh, and Dahod in Gujarat. Households in the sample are extremely poor, even by Indian standards. 93 per cent of households have a dirt floor, 71.3 per cent do not have electricity, and only 1.4 per cent have a television set. The median household has seven people, three of whom are children under 14. Sixty percent of women 45 years and older have had a child who was born alive and later died. Adult women in the region have completed less than a year of schooling, on average.
Almost all households own and farm small plots of land. There are three main agricultural seasons in this region: monsoon (July-October), winter (November-February) and summer (March-June). Agriculture is predominantly rain fed; the main growing season is during the monsoon. Corn is planted during the monsoon for home consumption, and the fodder from the corn is saved for feeding animals. Approximately half of households have irrigation, which allows them to plant crops, mainly wheat, during the winter.
Migration is an important livelihood strategy, particularly in the summer season, when agriculture is unproductive. Among those who migrated in the four seasons before the survey, 81.6 percent initiated a trip in the summer. They also find that 35 per cent of the 2,224 adults who completed the adult survey lived outside of their village for work at some point during the summer season. The median trip length is 30 days; adults often take more than one short trip in a year. Almost 80 per cent of households sent a migrant in the past year.
There is a strong age and sex pattern to migration; adult males are more likely to migrate than adult females, and migration is most common among adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and infants. There is very little permanent migration from this region. In only 3 per cent of households did household heads report that someone had left the household for a reason other than marriage in the 5 years before the survey. Since it is very uncommon for people to establish permanent homes at migration destinations, it is not the case that our sample of village households represents families that have experienced failed permanent migration relative to their neighbours.
Eighty-three percent of trips were to urban destinations. Although large cities in Gujarat, like Surat, Baroda, and Ahmedabad, are popular destinations, the adults in the sample reported working in over 140 different urban destinations in the four seasons prior to the survey. On over 60 per cent of adult trips recorded by the adult survey, migrants performed unskilled construction work; other trips were for agricultural labour, brick making and quarry work, road work, and other unskilled manual jobs. Most were paid on a daily basis; the median daily wage is 116 rupees. The most common way of finding work is through “nakas,” or urban meet-up points and spot markets for casual labour.
National Rural Employment Generation Scheme (NREGS) work was an important source of income for many of the households in the sample. The NREGS is a federal Indian government programme that is intended to provide up to 100 days of employment per year to rural households which seek manual work. In practice, the program is implemented differently in different states and districts, though work is most commonly provided during the hot or lean season, when there is little agricultural work. Reducing the need for short term migration in the lean season is a stated goal of the NREGS. More days of work were provided per person in Rajasthan than the other two states. In Rajasthan, almost 50 per cent of adults surveyed did some work for NREGS; the comparable figures are 39 percent in Madhya Pradesh and 10 per cent in Gujarat. Very little NREGS work was done in the monsoon and winter seasons. Rather than being provided upon a labourer’s demand, work was more commonly offered by village officials and provided to villagers.
Wages from NREGS work are generally lower than wages for migrant labour; the daily average wage from NREGS work was 63 rupees, while the average daily wage from migrant work was 123 rupees. John Papp (“Essays on India’s Employment Guarantee”, PhD thesis, Princeton University, 2012) finds a strong demand for NREGS work, even among migrants, despite this wage differential. Papp presents evidence that the availability of NREGS work reduced migration in Rajasthan relative to Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, where the scheme was less well implemented.
Education is low among both parents and children. 87.4 per cent of children aged 0-13 had a mother who never attended school and 53.9 per cent had a father who had never been to school. Children in the sample will attain more education, on average, than their parents. In spite of this, attainment is quite low. Among children six years and older, 17.1 per cent had never been school, and a larger fraction were not studying at the time of the survey. Among those 13 year old children who had ever been to school, the average child had completed 5.9 years of schooling.
Basic indicators reveal that children’s health is poor. Mothers who were in the village at the time of the survey reported on their children’s health in the week before the survey. 34.6 per cent of children aged 0-3 suffered from diarrhea the week before the survey, and 35.6 per cent of children aged 0-3 in suffered from an illness other than diarrhea in the week prior to the survey.
Of the 1,980 children about whom data were collected, 586, or 29.6 per cent, migrated with one or more adult family members in the year before the survey. Thus, while not as common as adult migration, child migration is a quantitatively important phenomenon in this population. Migration is most common for young children, with almost half of zero to two year old children migrating in the year before the survey. About 30 per cent of five year old children migrated, and just under 20 per cent of 10 year old children migrated. The factor that best explains whether or not a given child migrated in the past year is whether or not her mother migrated.
About half of children whose mothers migrated were left behind in the village in the year before the survey. Of the 1760 children for whom the relevant data exist, 26 per cent were left behind in the village in the year before the survey, meaning that their mother migrated, by they did not. Mothers’ reports of childcare arrangements revealed that 65 per cent of children 0 to 13 who had been left in the village were left with their grandparents, but the remaining children were left with other relatives, including their fathers, aunts and uncles, older siblings, and the husband’s other wife. 5 per cent of children whose mothers migrated stayed alone in the village.
For children who were away from the village at the time of the survey because they had accompanied a family member on a migration trip, the head of household reported the child’s main activity while away. For 67 per cent of children who were away at the time of the survey, the main activity reported was doing “nothing.” For 20 per cent of children, “going to school” was listed as the main activity, and 16 per cent were “taking care of younger siblings.” Only 2.3 per cent were listed as “working for pay” and only 2.7 per cent were listed as “working, but not for pay,” possibly to facilitate the work their parents were doing. Data were also collected about 513 child migrants from adults who were in the village at the time of the survey. Adults who had migrated with children were asked: “On the most recent trip that this child came with you, what did he/she do?” Multiple responses were allowed for this question. 20.5 per cent of children did domestic work (for their own households) on their last; 5.7 per cent worked for pay; 3.3 per cent helped adults work, but were unpaid; 2.1 per cent went to school; and 79.5 per cent did nothing.
Work (other than domestic work for their own household), was performed only by children age 10 and above. 20 per cent of 10 year olds, 22 per cent of 11 year olds, 50 per cent of 12 year olds and 58 per cent of 13 year olds were reported to have worked. Since the median adult trip lasted only 30 days, it is unlikely that these children were doing long term work, such as domestic work in another family’s house, or work in tea stalls or restaurants. Instead, they likely worked alongside their parents in construction or agriculture.
Are these low figures for child labour plausible? They are for three reasons:
First of all, relatively few older children migrate; only about 18 per cent of children 10 to 13 years old migrated in the year before the survey. If children were very productive at migrant worksites, more would likely have been brought along.
Second, most parents work at construction sites for which they are paid a pre-determined daily wage, rather than a piece rate. Employers may not want to risk hiring an unproductive worker, or getting in trouble with the law, as most construction work is done in the open. It is common to see children at the work sites, but uncommon to see them working.
Third, respondents in this sample report child marriage, a practice which, like child labour, might go unreported if respondents are afraid their answers will get them in trouble or bring about the disapproval of the surveyor. Respondents report marriages of girls under 18, which are, like some forms of child labour, illegal according to Indian law. 15 per cent of girls 14 to 17 are reported to be married, and 25 per cent of 16 and 17 year old girls are reported to be married.
Pix courtesy: Social Inclusion of Internal Migrants in India, Unesco, June 2013