Assessing the portability of social protection and welfare services for children affected by migration: A study across five Indian states

16 December 2021

In the run up to International Migrants Day on 18 December

NITI Aayog, Centre for Policy Research and UNICEF India

organised a dissemination webinar to launch the report titled

Assessing the portability of social protection and welfare services for children affected by migration: A study across five Indian states

Analysis of social protection measures to address the vulnerabilities of children and women, whose role in migration has been under-represented in the policy discourse, based on qualitative data from Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh

The report is now available online. Access here

Link to the webinar is here

New Delhi, 16 December 2021

In partnership with NITI Aayog, the Centre for Policy Research and UNICEF India organised a half-day webinar yesterday on Delivering services to circular migrants in India: Spotlight on women and children. The webinar commemorated International Migrants Day, which falls on the 18th of December. The webinar built on the findings of the report, identifying key barriers, good practices and offered suggestions for making social protection portable and accessible for vulnerable seasonal and circular migrants, who were the most disadvantaged by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In opening remarks, UNICEF India’s representative a.i, Yasumasa Kimura pointed to the contributions of migrants to host communities and welcomed the emphasis on women and children at a time when migrant households have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Yamini Aiyar, President & CEO, CPR, highlighted the need to think about institutional mechanisms to enable free movement of people within a federal structure, on the lines of the GST Council, which does the same for goods and services.

Dr. Muniraju S B, Dy Advisor, NITI Aayog, spoke about the policy document being drafted by the NITI CSO Standing Committee 'Sub-Group on Migrant Workers', which is under discussion with stakeholders. The policy focuses on the scope for portability and also includes best practices which can be replicated across the country. Over the next few months, the policy will be subject to more discussions towards evolving consensus from states for its acceptance, he said. Hyun Hee Ban Chief, Social Policy, Monitoring & Evaluation, UNICEF India, proposed a “4P solution” for moving forward on inclusion of women and children in the migration discourse: (i) Political Will - at the top level; (ii) Policies - that are shock responsive; (iii) Partnerships - and coordination to bridge gaps among all stakeholders; and (iv) People - centric design and engagement.

The first technical session focussed on women and child migrants. Speakers highlighted the impact of Covid-19 on early childhood development, the loss of learning owing to prolonged school closures on migrant children and adolescents and the grave concerns over child safety and mental health. Aditi Thakur from Development Management Institute shared learnings from a UNICEF-supported survey documenting experiences of 1800 migrant households who returned to UP and Bihar during the pandemic. The study showed sharp loss in livelihood, decreases in incomes, increasing casualization of work, experience of stigma and discrimination especially for women migrants, worsening of nutritional diversity and access to health and education services.

Umi Daniel, Head, Migration & Education, Aide et Action emphasized the need for better inter-state coordination, offering examples of the arrangements between Odisha and Andhra/Telangana for education of migrant children. Divya Varma, Program Manager, Aajeevika Bureau pointed to the need for improved institutional mechanisms to implement the One Nation One Ration Card scheme, including incentives for Fair Price Shop owners. She drew a comparison with the National Health Mission, whose access to migrants could be improved by providing adequate incentives or remuneration to frontline workers such as ASHAs and ANMs. Dr. Anjali Borhade, President, Disha Foundation highlighted the difficulties faced by migrant women in accessing institutional deliveries due to lack of awareness of government schemes. To address this, she recommended developing more Information & Communication materials, working with employers as important stakeholders, and working with district health organizations at source and destination locations. Shabarinath Nair, ILO underscored the relevance of a human rights framework for migration policy and elaborated on the importance of mapping out high priority areas for women and child migrants for better access to social protection schemes. Moderator Dr. Neena Bhatia, Senior Specialist, NITI Aayog concluded with key recommendations to develop cohesive policy frameworks which include migrants, generate migrant specific data to improve services, address issues of housing and basic infrastructure, focus on health insurance and food distribution, and involve relevant stakeholders.

The second technical session, moderated by Dr. Partha Mukhopadhyay, Senior Fellow, CPR, focussed on urban governance challenges for migrants. Highlighting the tendency of municipalities to consider property tax as the basis of citizenship, which excludes migrants and other vulnerable groups, Dr. Amita Bhide, Dean, School of Habitat Studies, TISS Mumbai proposed developing the capacity of urban institutions through better resources and dedicated cadres. Sudhir Katiyar,  Founding Member, Centre for Labour Research and Action proposed the provision of housing in urban areas as a first step in urging migrants to settle more permanently in cities. Roshini  Nuggehalli, Executive Director, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action highlighted the need for developing social protection frameworks which are shock responsive and gender sensitive. She suggested that data systems focus on beneficiaries previously excluded, and retain non-digital registration modalities to include women who have lower digital literacy and access. She also proposed a “single window” for social protection schemes through one-stop resource centres for migrants in urban areas. Based on his experience of running an agent network to service low income migrants, Varun Agarwal, ​​CEO, India Migration Now pointed out that policy makers need to view migrants as fluid categories, rather than fixed binaries of long-term/short-term, seasonal/circular etc. He described urban areas as a “black box” for migrant governance, and suggested community networks as a means for identifying and reaching out to urban migrants.

Report highlights

  • Social protection in India is embedded within contrasting logics of universalization and eligibility, whereby migrants face eligibility and access barriers even to universal services and rights-based entitlements like school education and primary healthcare.
  • Children and women are peripheral to the state’s imagination of migration on account of being poorly captured in employment and migration statistics.
  • Datasets that form the basis for scheme design tend to see migrants from a mainly economic lens, thus marginalizing children and women, as well as poorly capturing seasonal and circular migration patterns.
  • Scheme design must factor in the considerations of split households, circularity of migration and the challenges of serving remote locations such as peri-urban construction sites.
  • Differences in delivery of services between rural and urban locations highlight governance differences. There is a need to empower and resource cities to enumerate and deliver services to vulnerable migrants.
  • A lack of institutional capacity, sensitization and training results in incomplete enumeration and coverage of migrants. The complexity of migration is not uniformly understood across state- or city-level departments and across multiple tiers of government, this inhibits scheme implementation.
  • To increase awareness among migrant beneficiaries and close data gaps, robust collaboration mechanisms are needed between governments, civil society organisations and employers.
  • The burden of establishing themselves as beneficiaries repeatedly lies with circular migrants, who struggle to procure address proofs and IDs as well as register using online systems.
  • State governments recognize the inadequacy of available datasets and see value in more calibrated, dynamic and functional data that reflects the complexities of migration.
  • Governments are keen to leverage digital identities, especially Aadhaar, for more effective scheme delivery for migrants in the future.

The views shared belong to individual faculty and researchers and do not represent an institutional stance on the issue.