Seasonal Migration and Children’s Education in India

Authored by – Raashid Shah (Commentary)
Edited By – Sara Bardhan, Kavita Majumdar, Priyamvada Chaudhary


India’s 2011 Census recorded 453 million internal migrants in India, forming a significant 37% of the total population. According to data, one out of every five migrants is a child, resulting in an estimated 92.95 million migrant children. However, the Census and National Sample Survey’s [NSS] short-term circular migration estimates are believed to be low and misleading (Srivastava 2020). The absolute number of short-term circular migrants as estimated by the India Human Development Survey [IHDS] 2011-12 stood at 200 million. These estimates were more than 10 times the 2007-08 estimates by NSS with 15.2 million short-term migrants (Nayyar and Kim 2018). Deshingkar and Akter (2009) estimated the number of seasonal migrants to be around 100 million. Around the same period, the number of children associated with these migrations was estimated to be between 4-6 million (Smita 2008).


Seasonal migration usually involves labour migrants leaving their source areas at specific periods of the year, usually coinciding with the post-harvesting period beginning around October-November, to regions with a higher demand for labour typically in industries or agriculture for work. Temporary and seasonal migration is quite prominent in developing countries where it plays a crucial role in household survival, especially in rural areas. This movement from poor rural regions and agriculturally backward areas is predominantly a result of regional inequalities and uneven development across Asia (Deshingkar 2006). Most of these seasonal migrants find work in the manufacturing, construction, and agricultural sector. Seasonal migration cycles can occur between a few weeks to a few months according to which the frequency of movement varies too. Children whose parents migrate either accompany them to work sites or stay back in the source village, left behind without one or both parents. In both these cases, the educational progress of these children is thereby hindered.


The generally fixed nature of the schooling system makes it difficult for children who accompany their parents to continue their education during their movement to and from the sites of work, and the stay therein. This movement, and the stay at the work site, results in the children missing regular schooling for prolonged periods of time. The cycle of seasonal migration usually begins in October-November, following which migrant workers, and the children accompanying them, stay at the destination sites for around six to eight months. These families then return to their villages before the onset of the next monsoon. Since this movement overlaps with several months of the academic calendar, migrant children only get to go to schools between June and November (Smita 2008). Throughout this period, these children are often enrolled in school as per school records despite not having attended the school for many months.


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