by Dr Susan Mathew
MUMBAI, JAN 24, 2017: On January 20, Don Bosco Research Centre (DBRC), Matunga shared the findings of their recently concluded national study on the children of migrant construction workers.
The programme which was attended by the Salesians of Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai provinces, started with an introduction by Father Ajoy Fernandes, director of DBRC who emphasised the importance of networking, intervention and advocacy in taking the study forward.
Dakshayani Madangopal, CEO of DBRC, in her presentation delineated the study approach and the empirical findings of six cities, viz Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Kochi that highlighted the extent of vulnerability of children of migrant construction workers in the areas of education, health, nutrition and security.
The findings corroborated the information gathered through observation and focus group discussions with key informants and unearthed inadequacies in the living conditions, sanitation facilities and child care services across the sites with some measurable variations in places like Kochi, Delhi and Bangalore.
Gender disparity in wages, parental addiction to substances and vulnerability of the girl children were other unattended issues. Despite majority of workers having possession of identity documents like Aadhar, Ration and Voter cards and the specific legal provisions being in place for these entitlements, access to Public Distribution System (PDS) for basic provisions, health coverage and educational facilities were still remote realities for the workers. Lack of political will to enforce mandatory registration of workers was observed to be a major impediment for exercising their rights.
Post presentation witnessed a thought provoking discussion regarding the interventions and advocacy for this marginalised group, moderated by Father Savio Silveira, Vice Provincial, Mumbai province. Father Silveira guided the discussion in a methodical manner for the Salesian assembly, to come up with their advocacy plan in a right-based perspective and the practical steps to be initiated.
Father Thomas Pallithanam, a child rights' campaigner for `Nine-is-Mine' told his counterparts, " Have a collaborative approach with agencies instead of standalone services and join national campaigns for addressing primary educational rights of children under RTE Act, right to development of children through ICDS, National Food Security Act and ICPS. Influencing existing policies to bring workers under their purview is more promising than floating new legislations," Father Pallithanam said.
Father Francis Bosco from Chennai, who already has a 'migration desk' in place to build a database of migrants coming in from interior parts of Tamil Nadu, has plans for identifying children of migrant workers at source, mobilising contractors for facilitating bridge schools, improving sanitation facilities and introducing SMART Card for financial transactions.
Father T D John from Hyderabad felt the need for sensitisation of issues of migrant workers within the Salesian community and the Don Bosco Youth Services and Development Forum to take up skill development programmes for migrant youth while maintaining the rural-urban balance. The Don Bosco Home Link for missing children could be put in use for the service of migrant children.
Father Gregory Almeida, director of Don Bosco Balprafulta, Mumbai felt that networking with Salesian houses and NGOs was essential and also to involve volunteers to obtain data on addiction among migrants. Joining hands with social and print media, educational departments, health professionals, government agencies, regular monitoring by ASHA workers for pre and postnatal care of migrant women workers, were some of the suggestions made by Hemalatha Anilkumar, consultant, DBRC.
"Conducting health camps on construction sites along with a migration desk would help gather data on migrant workers," said Veena Sharma of DBRC. Father Mayank, Brother Ramesh, Father George D' Abreo and Shailesh of STEP Foundation from Gujarat, contributed to the action plan for the tribal belts of Gujarat and Ahmednagar that included networking with the Department of Women and Child Development, mobile services for education and PDS for ration, certificates for developing traditional skills and implementing NREGA to minimise distress migration. For achieving sustainable development, mandatory registration of workers, unionisation and enforcement of minimum wages were highlighted.
Father Silveira summarised the content of the discussion under thematic headings such as revisiting RTE for the benefit of children of migrant construction workers, health and sanitation laws, Food Security Act, risks and security issues and financial inclusion. Practical steps included setting up migration desks in rural and urban areas, creation of a data base of migrant construction workers, awareness programmes on entitlements, networking, producing documentaries on case studies of migrant construction workers by Bosco Information Services. The programme ended with a vote of thanks by Father Ajoy Fernandes.