Background and Issues
The NGO Child Rights Trust and child rights advocate and activist Nina Nayak have filed this petition to draw the Court’s attention to the suffering of migrant children and the children of migrant labourers during the pandemic. The petition is motivated by the lack of government action and planning to improve this situation.
The petition is concerned with three groups of children- First, the children who are left in villages because their parents have migrated for work. These children have suffered due to the loss of livelihood of their parents during the pandemic. Second, children who have migrated with their parents who migrate seasonally (short term) for work. Third, children who have migrated independently to work themselves. The third group is nearly invisible in all reports and in the data collected by the government.
The Petition states that all three groups of migrant children have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Many children have lost their lives in the movement back to their villages from the cities. The food security, access to and quality of healthcare, education, safe living conditions and protection of these children have all become precarious in the pandemic. The petition states that there has been no effort by the government to specifically account for and solve the crisis faced by these groups of children. Such inaction represents a disregard for the fundamental rights of these groups.
What Do the Petitioners Seek?
The petitioners seek that the Court direct
Government bodies to create records of children of migrant families at work sites and areas of concentration of migrant families, so that migrant children are no longer invisible in policy decisions.
Government bodies to create Children’s Assistance Centers in areas of migrant family concentration to assist in meeting basic necessities of the children
Anganwadis to provide free of cost mid-day meals to all migrant children
To direct the Central Government to create and implement targeted plans to provide proper nutrition to children of migrant families
Government bodies to report on healthcare provided to children of migrant families and lactating mothers
Government bodies to report on all out of school migrant children, and create plans for their education
Local governments to conduct meetings to listen to and address grievances on children of migrant families
Government bodies to involve appropriate ministries and local bodies to prevent entry to children into labour market
Government bodies to submit an action plan for child marriage prevention during the pandemic
Government bodies to involve appropriate ministries and local bodies to implement preventative measures for the safety of in-transit children, and children at worksites, from abuse and exploitation
Constitute a Task Force to monitor the protection of the rights of children of migrant families
The petitioners argue that the full realization of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution can only be achieved if all people have food security, adequate nutrition, access to education and healthcare. The Supreme Court has, in multiple cases, observed that the state is obligated to ensure access to basic necessities for marginalized groups, including children. Articles 15, 39 and 47 require the state to take positive action to specifically ensure the protection and dignity of life (including nutrition, education, standard of living and healthcare) of children in vulnerable situations.
The National Food Security Act, 2013 requires the state to provide nutritious food to lactating mothers and children under the age of 14. The non-fulfillment of these requirements for migrant families due to the shutting down of anganwadis and government schools amounts to a violation of the right to life and liberty under Article 21.
The shift to online education since the beginning of the pandemic has resulted in migrant children who, by and large, do not have access to technology, being deprived of their right to education. This right is guaranteed under Article 21A, and the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.
Article 24 casts an obligation on the state to ensure that no child below 14 years of age is employed in any hazardous industry. The current situation in which the pandemic has forced many migrant children into employment violates this Article, and the State must act to fulfill its obligations under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 and the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 59.
The vulnerability of migrant children in the pandemic requires attention from the Child Welfare Committees, who must take suo moto action in reaching children in need of protection under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. The ministries of the government are responsible to make a dedicated plan to aid migrant children in furtherance of their obligation to mitigate a disaster under Section 37 of the National Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Obligations under International Conventions
As a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 and the Convention of Rights of Children, 1989, the government of India is required to provide special care and assistance to children to ensure their access to nutritious food, adequate healthcare, education, safety and protection. In its Policy Brief on the Impact of Covid-19 , the United Nations has noted that the pandemic has caused substantial delays in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals globally, and that children in institutions and detention, including migrant children, need special attention in this situation. Accordingly, the petitioners argue that the government must dedicatedly plan how it will assist children of migrant families to counter the adverse impact of the pandemic.