by Veena Sharma
MUMBAI, JAN 30, 2017: A seminar was organised by the Don Bosco Research Centre (DBRC) on January 24, to share the findings of their recently concluded study on the children of migrant construction workers in Mumbai. The programme was attended by senior representatives from about 30 NGOs actively involved with construction workers and having extensive grass root coverage in education and health sectors.
The programme started with an introduction and welcome address by Father Ajoy Fernandes, director of DBRC. He emphasised that the purpose of the seminar was to network and disseminate the findings for NGOs to take it forward at two levels-interventions and advocacy. Hemlatha Anil Kumar, consultant at DBRC, elaborated on the study, the tasks involved, study approach and the methodology involved.
Dr Susan Mathew then disseminated the findings of the study. She revealed the extent of vulnerability of children of migrant construction workers in their living conditions and in the areas of education, health, nutrition and security. She also highlighted the high risk and vulnerability of pregnant women and nursing mothers. These findings were corroborated with information gathered through data collected from 254 households, observations on the sites and focus group discussions with key informants.
Pathetic living conditions, nonexistent sanitation facilities and poor or absent child care services across the sites added to the vulnerability of these children. Issues like gender based disparity in wages, parental addiction to substances and vulnerability of the girl child was highlighted. Despite majority of the workers having ID cards and other documents like Aadhar, Ration and Voter cards,they did not have access to the Public Distribution System (PDS), public health services and free education for their children. Absence of education and health facilities for the children made them more vulnerable. At times toddlers were left in the neighbour's care without any responsible supervision.
The session was followed by a group activity, where the participants - divided into five groups - were encouraged to make suggestions to change the situation of these children. Each was given a theme to brainstorm in terms of advocacy and intervention measures. The five topics were: services, health, living condition, education and policies.
The session was animated by the resource person Dr Vaijayanta Anand, founder- director of Nirman, working for construction workers since 1986; assisted by Veena Sharma, researcher from DBRC. Dr Anand animated the group discussions and added useful insights on already existing provisions and the barriers to implementation.
Various intervention needs and advocacy measures for services, improved living conditions, access to better health services and access to public distribution systems and public health services were highlighted by the groups. There were suggestions to link children living on the sites to municipal schools, under Right to Education (RTE). Networking with local leaders and municipal services to implement and improve living conditions was another suggestion.
Advocacy measures included the principal employer's active involvement in the welfare of the workers rather than leaving them to the mercy of contractors. It was important to blacklist and discourage contractors who mistreated and exploited the labourers. Builders also needed to ensure and guarantee registration of all workers. Opportunities for skill enhancement and upgradation were also suggested for the labourers.
Useful interventions like awareness camps and mobile health camps could be facilitated with the local public health system. Involvement of local ANC centres and public health care workers to register and follow up with pregnant and lactating mothers, besides provision of ICDS facilities at the construction sites were some of the other suggestions made.
The session concluded with a vote of thanks by Dakshayani Madangopal, CEO of DBRC; in response to which Anaxi Shah of Smile Foundation thanked the DBRC team for inviting them for a useful and productive seminar and for the information shared therein.