Other States

Coronavirus | Stranded parents worried over fate of children

Odisha closes seasonal hostels prematurely and hands them over to guardians

Migrant labourers from Odisha stranded in the brick kilns and the construction sites in other States are worried about the fate of their kids as the government-run seasonal hostels, where they were put up, are closed prematurely following the COVID-19 alert.

About 5,000 children aged below 14 have been handed over to distant relatives and community members in Balangir and Nuapada district of Odisha while parents of a majority of children are yet to return home.

Seasonal hostels were introduced in western Odisha districts of Balangir, Nuapada, Bargarh, Kalahandi and Subarnapur from where thousands of families undertake migration for seven months every year to work in the brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Earlier, they used to take their school-going children with them to workplaces with no one left in the villages to take care of them. Children were losing valuable school hours and protein food. While migrant labourers work outside the State from December to June, these kids stay in hostels.

In Balangir and Nuapada districts, 62 seasonal hostels each were opened this year. In view of the COVID-19 scare, all hostels had been closed on March 24. While the government claims that kids have been handed over to their parents, experts believe not more than 20% of migrant labourers have returned home.

“I don’t know the whereabouts of my 12-year-year son Hem Singh whom I had put up in a seasonal hostel at Nangalbod in Nuapada district. We cannot move from here as there is no train to our home State. I am worried,” Bhujbal Singh Majhi, who works in a kiln at Pandeswaram near Chennai, told The Hindu over phone.

Similar sentiment was echoed by Indra Bhoi, who had left behind her 11-year-old son in Patalpada village under Muribahal block of Balangir district. “We don’t know what [novel] coronavirus is. What we are informed is that the virus is dangerous and could wipe out many. Since we did not have any trusted one back home, we had put up our son in a seasonal hostel. Now he is with his uncle. We are really worried,” Indra said adding that the government would have best taken care of him.

About 3,000 migrant workers from western Odisha districts are still working in the kilns near Chennai. A conservative estimate says the number would cross 20,000 if all four States are taken into account.

According to the Balangir district administration, all children were released after consultations with local guardians. “We have left the children in the custody of their local guardians. When the government wanted all hostels to be shut, we did not have any option,” said Dhruba Charan Behera, Balangir District Education Officer.

The government should have taken a little care while handing over these children. The district-level Child Welfare Committees, the quasi-judicial body constituted to ensure the safety of children, were not even consulted. The Balangir CWC said it did not have any information about handing over of children.

“It is very critical to understand the situation of the children while being handed over to their legal custodian. Children need to be protected mentally, psychologically and also physically till their parents come back. The government should closely monitor their whereabouts,” said Umi Daniel, head of the Migration information and Resource Centre (MiRC), Aide et Action South Asia, an NGO.

Though the COVID-19 had thrown an extraordinary challenge, the government should have been extra cautious in handling these cases, said Mr. Daniel.

Odisha has sent more than 5.5 lakh children staying in different hostels to their natural parents. But the children of the migrant labourers seem to be a little unlucky.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 4:20:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/coronavirus-stranded-parents-worried-over-fate-of-children/article31199424.ece

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