According to India’s National Sample Survey, as of date, more than 32 million children have never been to school. Nearly 80% of migrant children across seven Indian cities lack access to education near worksites even as 40% children from seasonal migrant households are likely to end up as child labor in the unorganized sector instead of being in school, according to the UNESCO’s 2019 Global Monitoring (GEM) report. The report also cites the lack of schooling and a structured environment as a key reason for these children being exposed to exploitation, abuse and trafficking. It is not uncommon to find many children from urban slums getting sucked into a life of crime and delinquency. Also, poverty, unemployment, and large family sizes pushes them towards acute malnutrition, anemia and other deficiencies which impact their adolescent and adult lives.

Sukarya’s work in Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan have shown that no work on maternal mortality and education can be complete without keeping the interest of adolescent girls in mind. Across its project sites in makeshift slum colonies, many of which are unauthorized with transit migrants and the poorest of the poor, Sukarya runs its projects on education, gender equality, and health care. The strategy has always been to partner with the communities and work with them while recognizing their unique situations, then customizing interventions to suit their needs. Earning the trust and confidence of the communities has helped Sukarya prioritize its interventions and focus on an integrated holistic model that ensures sustainable growth with long-term impact.

A mobile school that brings the classroom home

Sukarya’s Education on Wheels (EOW) project is aligned with the government’s “Education for All” motto. It is a fascinating program that brings the school right to the doorstep of the student. It gives those children a chance to complete schooling who had otherwise abandoned it or never had the chance to enroll in the first place. Children who are engaged as rag pickers, shoe shine boys, domestic help, labor in the organized sector, or simply who have to manage younger siblings while parents go out to work are the biggest beneficiaries.

Impact of COVID-19 on ongoing programs and what we learned

The pandemic impacted most development programs and Sukarya was no exception. Outreach teams that have a strong connect with families and households providing them information and support on immunization, antenatal and postnatal check-ups for pregnant women, advice on nutrition, and counselling on domestic abuse, played a major role in maintaining equilibrium in the community. The pandemic caused lot of disruption with an initial sense of disbelief and denial that later turned to fear and paranoia. Misinformation contributed to irrational behaviors leading to stigma and discrimination against those who had COVID. Loss of jobs especially amongst migrants led to severe mental health issues accompanied with hunger. The experience of loss and grief was rampant – be it losing a loved one or a job or parent. The worst sufferers were again children.

Education has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Without access to education, as shocks are experienced – including loss of life, health impacts and loss of livelihoods – children are more vulnerable and unprotected.  As household finances are being strained and needs increase, out-of-school children are more likely to be exposed to risks like family violence, child labor, forced marriage, trafficking, and exploitation. For the most vulnerable children, education is lifesaving.

Read the full article about what Covid is teaching us by Meera Satpathy at Global Washington.