Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Protecting the female migrants of the Northeast

India’s North Eastern Region (NER) has been a significant receiver of migrants in the past few decades given its low population density and location as a frontier region. Observers suggest that lesser migrant mobility takes place in the NER in comparison to the national average. As per a study in the Indian Journal of Labour Economics,with the exception of Arunachal Pradesh, no other state in the NER constitutes a percentage of migrants found to be higher than the national average of 45 per cent. States with the lowest mobility include Nagaland, Manipur and Meghalaya, with just one-fourth of its entire population being migrants.
Though almost all states in the NER have a lower percentage of migrants in comparison to the national average, the introduction of a migrant monitoring/tracking system can be seen as a step towards the right direction as it would not only enumerate and recognise but also protect the NER’s female migrants. As per the 2011 Census, Assam (6,972,216)
has the highest number of female migrants in the NER, followed by Tripura (815,217), Manipur (445,698), Meghalaya (354,167) and Nagaland (268,499). Mizoram (193,982) and Sikkim (137,976) were seen to have the lowest number of female migrants.
It is seen that apart from Maharashtra, no other Indian states have any institutionalised mechanisms in place to enumerate and grant recognition to its female migrants. Following the Maharashtra model, a migration monitoring system on a state-level basis in the NER could help map the movements of the most vulnerable categories of seasonal migrants, that is, pregnant and lactating women, young mothers and their children. In Maharashtra, they are monitored with the help of unique identification numbers. A migration database thus, enables the Northeastern states to keep track of all ongoing intra-district, inter-districts and interstate migration, with all the information available under a single platform, and render appropriate assistance whenever required.
Due to the absence of a credible database enumerating and carrying information on inter-state migrant workers in India, it becomes difficult for the government to implement any relief and rehabilitation measures for this vulnerable category. While the Census of India has served as the primary source of information on migrants for the past few decades, it is to be noted that it was only 1971 onwards that an additional criteria concerning the ‘place of last residence’ was included in addition to the ‘place of birth’.
With the sudden onset of the pandemic and an overnight nationwide lockdown having a profound negative impact on the country’s female migrants, there must not be any laxity in preparation in the likely event of another nationwide lockdown.
Also, large number of female migrants and children in India remain unaware of their rights, and fall prey to the evils of trafficking and exploitation each year. States in the NER have been no exception to this trend since they share international borders, and have Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) in place, to keep a strict watch on any potential human trafficking. The Ministry of Home Affairs states that Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh fund the highest numbers of AHTUs in the region– at 37, 12, 11 and 8 respectively. Both Manipur and Sikkim fund 5 AHTUs, while Mizoram and Tripura fund 4 and 2 AHTUs respectively.
In addition to this, a migrant monitoring mechanism shall simply help strengthen oversight of, and guarantee protection for the female migrant workers and their children in the respective states.
Female migrants and especially young girls, are always at high risk of exploitation, forced labour and abuse. To eradicate such forms of labour, there is need to increase access to decent working opportunities and protecting migrants.
However, this can only be possible with official datasets that correctly enumerate and grant recognition to female migrants. The migration monitoring mechanism also makes it easier to gather data on informal sectors that employ female migrants in large numbers– such as the construction sector for instance.
This in turn, guarantees benefits like proper working conditions and minimum wages. Major destination states for female migrants of the NER include Delhi, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Further, the monitoring system would provide information on facilities like vaccination, health check-ups and food distribution to the target beneficiaries, as a result of which these facilities can be availed easily.
It would also become easier to provide Anganwadi services to women migrants and their children.
This in turn would ensure a better implementation of health schemes, education programmes and guarantee employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (MGNREGA) in the NER. This is especially important since it is known fact that female migrants in India are low-skilled, low paid and have faced lower chances of employment reengagement across all sectors, in comparison to their male counterparts. Schedule II of the MGNREGA mandates that at least one-third of its beneficiaries are to be women.
As per a studyin the South Asia Research journal, the national average of female participation under MGNREGA stood at 52 per cent in terms of state-wise workers’ participation under MGNREGA over a period of five years from 2006-2021. The rate of female participation in all the states of the NER were found to be much below the national average– Meghalaya (45.9 per cent), Tripura (45.8 per cent), Sikkim (47.1 per cent), Manipur (42.9 per cent), Mizoram (37.6 per cent), Arunachal Pradesh (35.4 per cent) Assam (33.4 per cent) and Nagaland (32.8 per cent).
This is simply because there have been no official datasets in place to capture the actual frequency and scale of female migration in the NER. Thus, female migrants as a category in the NER have suffered from underrepresentation over the past few years. In light of sex-disaggregated data concerning female migrant workers, there would be much to welcome in a state-wise migration monitoring system in the NER.
The Centre thus, must play a more proactive role by offering its strategic guidance by coming up with a common platform for all the state-level migration monitoring systems in the region.
Prarthana Sen

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