Empowering the Daughters of Migrant Workers in India
By Athalye Dakshayani
Sheeja (not her real name), loves school and studying and has dreams of someday becoming an architect. However, the plans of this 16-year old—who was being cared for by her grandparents, construction laborers in India—were suddenly in jeopardy when her father unexpectedly announced that he had arranged for her to be married. Instead of agreeing to a forced wedding, Sheeja contacted Tara Mobile Crèches Pune (TMCP), a nonprofit organization that provides educational opportunities, health care, and recreational activities to the children of migrant construction workers.
“I was scared when I came to know about my marriage. I want to study further and get a job. I knew if I wavered, it would be the end of my ambitions. I had confidence in [TMCP]. I knew they would save me,” Sheeja explained. With the help of TMCP, which intervened on her behalf before her family and law enforcement officials, Sheeja was allowed to go with representatives from the group. “She knew her rights, she knew it was illegal to get married at 16 and all this because she had education,” said Pranita Madkaikar, TMCP’s chief executive officer.
In a country in which women and girls suffer legal and societal discrimination and sexually-based violence, the daughters of Indian migrant workers face those as well as other particular problems. However, with the help of groups such as TMCP, these girls have the opportunity to further their education and gain greater independence.
Internal migrants—who travel mostly in search of work and numbered nearly 20 percent of the country’s total population as of the 2001 census—experience numerous struggles, including language barriers that limit educational opportunities for their children. According to the census, India has 22 major and nearly 1,600 other languages. The many migrants who labor at construction sites move frequently looking for jobs and therefore often don’t speak the languages of the areas in which they temporarily reside. In turn, their children face serious obstacles to learning in schools in which classes are taught in these local languages. Some children have their schooling disrupted when they travel with their parents who are searching for work to pay off debts, returning home only after having earned enough money.
In addition, migrant children often do not possess documents, such as a birth certificate that provides proof of citizenship, which are necessary to obtain a higher education. Even if they belong to one of the reserved categories—groups that are part of a type of quota-based affirmative action program providing students from lower castes access to educational and occupational opportunities—the categories differ from state to state. As a result, they are unable to obtain the same facilities or concessions in a state to which they have migrated as they would have in their home state.
Hope for Daughters of Migrant Workers
While all migrant children suffer the negative consequences of frequent moves, the daughters of migrant workers face additional challenges. According to Madkaikar, when both migrant parents work, older girls frequently do not attend school since they must assume a greater share of the household chores and child care responsibilities for their younger siblings. The daughters of migrant workers are often forced into marriage at a very young age or are employed doing housework in their neighborhood to help pay for their brothers’ education. Meanwhile, some men leave their families in their home towns while they travel in search of work. Those women and girls who are left without the protection of the family patriarch are consequently more vulnerable to becoming victims of sexual violence.
To address the impact of frequent moves on the education of the daughters of migrant workers, TMCP helps them gain admittance to hostels, where they enjoy a stable place of residence while studying at nearby schools. TMCP plans to have 25 girls in various hostels by the 2016-2017 academic year. Most of the girls who have been living in hostels perform well academically; two have now completed their higher secondary certificate, or the equivalent of twelfth grade, and one has received an undergraduate degree in business and administration.
While the total numbers of girls helped by TMCP may be small, the impact on their individual lives can be dramatic.
One such girl is Anjali, who first received care at a TMCP-run preschool center. TMCP then helped Anjali enroll in a local school run by municipal authorities in the city of Pune in Maharashtra state. During the next five years, Anjali moved to five different construction sites with her parents. Fortunately, each of them had centers run by TMCP, which facilitated Anjali’s formal education by enrolling her in a government school and providing guidance through mentors. When she was twelve years old, TMCP arranged for Anjali to move to a girls’ hostel while she attended school; she is now in college studying business. TMCP assisted Anjali with the college admissions process, as well as with finding new living arrangements and selecting courses in other professional programs.
Under the auspices of TMCP, Anjali has been an active member of the group’s Children’s Parliament and Child to Child, working to identify local environmental problems, undertake corrective measures with local authorities, and spread awareness of these issues to other children and their families. In 2014 and 2015, she took part in a number of conventions, workshops, and training programs focused on issues including ecology and gender and sustainable development.
In June 2015, Anjali was chosen to represent Indian youth at the Terre des Hommes—a network of ten national groups working for children’s rights—India Seminar in Germany where she gave a presentation on the regional activities of the International Youth Network of the TDH in India. Anjali also discussed her life as the daughter of a migrant construction worker and how, with support from TMCP, she overcame various obstacles to achieve academic success.
With the support of organizations such as TMCP, the daughters of migrant workers like Sheeja and Anjali are given educational opportunities that lead to greater self-confidence and the chance for them to lead more independent lives.