Education for Children of Migrant Workers

Author – Gayatri Sethi

According to the most recent  2011 Census, there are an estimated 450 million domestic migrants in India, of which 92.95 million are children. A UNICEF report also stated that one in every five migrants in India is a child, and 50.6% of migrant children are girls.

Even after the crisis that followed the country-wide lockdown during the  COVID-19 Pandemic, when millions of migrant workers were forced to leave the cities and head back to their native homes, information regarding the children of migrant workers remains scarce. The issue of migrant workers, specifically migrant children, was given due importance when the Supreme Court, in 2021, directed state governments to provide more information on the matter. Although the states have provided no formal data, initiatives taken by a few governments have been aimed at understanding and tackling the problem related to the education of migrant children. The 2019 Interstate Migrant Policy Index, which assessed 28 states and Delhi, showed that Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Kerala were among the most successful in integrating migrants. Two such initiatives are  Project ‘Roshni’ and ‘Apna Ghar’ in Kerala. But Despite these efforts, there has been little progress on the issue and the problem persists great.

The UN Migration Agency, International Organization for Migration (IOM), defines a migrant as any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a state, away from his/her habitual place of residence. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of The United Nations people, mostly women and youth, migrate to escape or overcome food insecurity, poverty, lack of employment etc.  

Migrant children face a plethora of problems from lower nutritional outcomes to child marriages, but they rarely benefit from government policies. One of the most significant problems that migrant children face is their exclusion from education. The UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report in India, 2019, estimated that around 40% of children who come from migrant households are more likely to end up working rather than going to school. Other reports such as the 2013 report on India by the International Labour Organisation also stressed that migration gravely affects children and is “highly exploitative” for them due to the abuse, lack of basic living conditions, insecurities etc. 

Migrant children are exposed to atrocities such as child trafficking and child labour but are given fewer education opportunities, a majority of reports state that large numbers of migrant children were not enrolled in schools or educational institutions. 

The Government of India has also implemented and tried to focus on the issue of migrant children through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), both of which are tasked with providing education and development to children from vulnerable sections of society, including the migrant population. The government also spent  Rs 18,600 crores in 2018-19 on the education expenditure of the Ministry of Defence and Kendriya Vidyalayas. In 2018-19, Kendriya Vidyalayas spent Rs 5,006 Crores while Rs 13,600 Crores was spent by the Union Ministry of Defence on elementary and secondary education. These efforts, however, do not reach the migrant workers and their children as they sometimes move away from cities in search of jobs and are not counted or registered in schools at all. The lack of data systems, such as a national registry on migrants, inhibits the success these policies could achieve and results in the alienation of migrant children from government initiatives. Due to frequent migration, socio-economic background and the livelihoods of their parents, migrant children are challenging to monitor and as a result, are excluded from targeted policies. 


Thus, the main obstacle in the way of implementing policies targeted at helping migrant children is the lack of data accounting for migration. This gap hampers the designing of legislation and policies. The government acknowledges the problem of education in migrant children but there has not been a formal analysis or identification of the challenges faced by these communities. Robust micro-level, de-segregated data on the educational status of migrant children in India can be gathered to achieve this. 

There is a grave need to rewrite existing policies on the problems of education for migrant children. A comprehensive framework which includes the right to education for all children, including the migrant population, makes that right accessible to all. Language is a barrier that most migrant children have to face, which in turn hinders their education. To tackle this, there need to be provisions made to create a multilingual approach to education. Policies need to be tailored to the needs of migrant children, keeping in mind their well-being. The role of urban and local authorities is crucial to attaining this goal.