Children on the Move : 63 million migrants in India are children

India Migration Now
Sep 3, 2019 · 7 min read

The Census 2011 estimated total internal migration at nearly 450 million. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 1 in 8 people globally is a migrant. Many have looked at different facets of migration including gender, labour, agriculture, and industry, few have accounted for a growing and especially vulnerable demographic: the children of migrating adults.

In this blog, we will address the following aspects of child migration:

  • Child Migration in India (major destinations, sources and reasons for migration)
  • The policy framework around Child migration in India
  • IMPEX 2019 results evaluating the integration of children of interstate migrants in destination states
Image for post
Image for post

There are three ways to account for impact as far as children and migration is concerned — migrating with parents, migrating alone, or staying behind. In each case, the child is at the centre of a complex web of dynamics between state, individual, and household, and is usually left extremely vulnerable.

Take for instance the first case, that of children migrating with parents. Although the presence of adults may be a source of protection for children, the 2013 ILO study actually found that 53% of children, including those trafficked, reported that they migrated with their parents.

UNESCO’s 2013 Report on Social Inclusion of Internal Migrants estimated that there were 15 million seasonal migrant children, accompanied and unaccompanied, in India.

Child Migration in India

According to the 2011 Census, there are 63 million child migrants in India, of which 30 million are female. The top 5 destination states to which children migrated for employment or with their household were Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh. While the majority reported moving with their households and for education, worryingly large number of children moved for employment, business, and marriage(129,183 girls in the age group 10–14 reported having migrated after marriage although the legal age for marriage for women is 18).

Image for post
Image for post

In India, child migration has typically been associated with exploitative outcomes for children. A 2013 study in India conducted by the ILO found that 47% of children between the age 6–14 and 68% of children between ages 15–17 were working as bonded labour.

Although the destinations of children migrating or being trafficked for work varied considerably, they were usually areas with an established agricultural sector, booming ago-business, a thriving construction sector, or well developed trade and services networks: in short, places with an abundant informal economy where even adult workers face exploitative conditions. In the absence of this kind of work, the study found that children had been forced into begging, rag-picking, and even theft.

The Complex Drivers and Impacts of Child Migration

Although migrating alone greatly increases the chances of exploitation, socio-economic, household poverty often compels underage children to work in dangerous circumstances. The vulnerabilities especially multiply in the case of girls who are often trafficked into the commercial sex trade, against their will.

According to a 2010 study by Diane Coffey, incidences of children migrating increase when mothers also migrate in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. This illustrates the gendered nature of childcare and its influence on household migration decisions.

Often impact on left-behind children is ignored. For instance, a study conducted in the Philippines, found that the impact of labour migration was not disruptive if the mother had stayed behind as well. Studies of left-behind children in China also find a net positive impact on children whose parents are migrants.

From a destinations perspective, analysis in India found that 90% of young migrants on work sites lacked access to Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). While 80% of those in the school-going age did not have access to education. Additionally, 40% were engaged in some form of child labour.

However, it would be wrong to declare unilaterally that migration is inherently exploitative for children. Migration, especially with the family, can open up new avenues and opportunities for children by facilitating access to better education facilities, social and economic infrastructure, and cultural exchange.

Studies from across the world show that having migrant parents boosts the household’s consumption expenditure and improves the resources available to children who stay behind, eventually perhaps providing for a more virtuous cycle of migration for them. However, part of the reason why child labour and trafficking continue to remain intrinsically associated with the story of child migration is because of the policy response (or the lack of it) of the state.

“Eight out of 10 migrant children in work sites across seven Indian cities do not have access to education. Among young people who have grown up in a rural household with a seasonal migrant, 28 per cent identified as illiterate or had an incomplete primary education. Up to 40 per cent of children from seasonal migrant households are likely to end up in work rather than school.” — UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report 2019

What does the law say?

India’s legislative approach has largely left much to be desired. At the time of independence, Article 24 of the Constitution banned child labour (employing of children below 14) but only for particular hazardous industries. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 which emerged from the recommendations of the 1979 Gurupadaswamy Commission, abolished only certain kinds of hazardous employment for children below 14.

It was argued that the complete banning of child labour, in the Indian context, was unrealistic due to socio-economic drivers such as poverty which made it a necessary evil. A subsequent amendment to the Act, passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2016, has taken us many steps forward by banning all forms of child labour except for family businesses/enterprises.

The 2009 Right to Education Act which guarantees schooling to all children between 6–14 has been of immense aid to migrant children. Schemes such as Sarva Shiksha Abhigyan, ICDS, anganwadis, provision of creches under the Building and Other Construction Workers Act have all impacted the lives of migrant children.

What are states doing for migrant children?

India Migration Now’s Interstate Migrant Policy Index (IMPEX) analysis demonstrates that some states have gone above and beyond to provide for migrant children.

Image for post
Image for post

Although the average score for the policy area of Children’s Rights is 32, states such as Kerala and Maharashtra score 75 and 61 respectively, due to their child friendly state policies. This is largely because both states have specific Child Policy documents which compel the state to make special provisions for migrant children.

Kerala’s 2016 State Policy for the Child requires that the state track, rescue, and rehabilitate migrant children as well as ensure their care, protection, and specific hygiene needs. Maharashtra’s 2014 Child Policy has similar measures to account for migrant children’s education, health, protection from discrimination, and even mandates the keeping of special records.

The IMPEX policy area of Education also holds relevance from the perspective of migrant children. Here too, the average score is 34, but Kerala, Maharashtra, and Gujarat achieve relatively higher scores of 66, 49, and 45. All three have instituted special measures for the education of migrant children, via special orders, policies, or the Right to Education State Rules.

Kerala’s Project Roshni and the 2010 Migrant Workers Welfare Scheme are particularly noteworthy — the former teaches Malayalam, Hindi, and English to migrant children while the latter provides social security schemes for the education of migrant children. Maharashtra’s Education Guarantee Card (EGC) Scheme is also an innovative initiative in which the state intends to track migrant children and ensure school enrollments — although this scheme is slated to benefit intra-state migrants more than inter-state ones.

Image for post
Image for post


In 2011, Maharashtra registered 57.3 million internal migrants, 47.9 million (83%) of which were intra-state while 9.08 million were inter-state. Of the total internal migrants, 10.8 million were child migrants (between the ages of 0–14). Intra-state migration largely happens towards the more developed western parts of the state and from districts which are drought ridden such as Jalna, and Beed in the Marathwada region.

Mobility for work and mobility are fundamental rights of every citizen of India. But in the absence of periodic government enumeration of migrant workers and their families, adequate support and services do not reach them. Countless migrant children in the country live without immunisation, lack access to early childhood care and meaningful education, and forced to work at a young age.

At India Migration Now, we believe that migration is deeply interlinked with India’s development story and in order to address migrants’ needs, it is important to first understand their needs.

  • The blog is a collaborative effort of the research team at IMN.
Image for post
Image for post

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store