Another Brick in the Wall

Child labour continues to pose a major problem inspite of grand government claims and schemes. And one hazardous area where children end up as migrant workers are the brick kilns spread across Assam. Apart from health hazards, another serious problem is that children drop out of school and gradually lose interest in formal education.

A recent study on the educational status of children working in the brick kilns of Assam— by the Aide et Action-South Asia, Guwahati Regional Office and Migration Information & Resource Centre (MIRC) – throws up startling facts. The study was carried out in 36 brick kilns situated in Rangia, Hajo, Kamalpur, Rampur and Rani blocks of both, Kamrup Metro and rural districts to understand the status of children living with parents who migrated to work in these brick kilns. 

The brick kiln industry had been chosen for the purpose of the study because it is seasonal in nature and often the labour force includes migrants’ families and children. The study attempted to understand the condition of the families as well as children at the worksites and their access to basic entitlements of ICDS, health facilities, safe drinking water and sanitation. Moreover it has been discovered that brick kilns involve the worse form of migration (distress migration). The study also researched the availability of infrastructure, the involvement of children in the brick making process, the educational status of these children and dropout rates at source location.

A total of 787 migrated families (total population 3131) working in 36 brick kilns have been covered under the study; out of which 1519 are children in the age group of 0-14 years, i.e. 48 percent of the total population work in these brick kilns, out of which 13 percent are less than four years old. The study revealed that the pattern of migration is mostly inter-district within Assam.

“The brick kiln industry had been chosen for the purpose of the study because it is seasonal in nature and often the labour force includes migrants’ families and children.”

Brick kiln as an industry requires labourers to form groups and so families often include their children. The processing involves varying degrees of labour, with the burning process considered to be the most dangerous one. Children comprise the most crucial part of the labour force within brick kilns. They stack the raw bricks for drying purposes. Hence the whole family migrates to the work sites of brick kilns for a minimum period of six months. The study reveals that education of children comes to a halt as they drop out of school and migrate along with their parents for work.

Between the age group of 4 – 14 years, 70 percent of the children are not school going, whereas at source location, 58.6% never enrolled and 41.3 percent are drop outs. The study brought forth that in 18 brick kilns out of the 36 surveyed, there are special training centres established by the SSA with a teacher recruited locally. In terms of mid day meals, 76.5 percent parents informed that their children were not availing of mid day meals at the destination.

The Study recommends effective strategies and approaches for ensuring the rights of the child.
Children who dropped out at an early age and had not been mainstreamed into formal school into appropriate classes at the right age tend to show less interest in formal schooling and thus schools should have provision for vocational training programmes. “In order to ensure that these children do not end up as migrant workers in the brick kilns at distress condition, appropriate Skill Training for Employability & Entrepreneurship can be considered an option,” says an official of Aide et Action-South Asia.

The health hazards also take a toll on these children. A total of 41 percent children across 36 brick kilns have suffered from either fever or diarrhoea at one point or the other during their stay. 39.6 percent children have suffered from fever and 0.9 percent children have suffered from skin diseases. 67.2 percent parents said that their children do not get any facility of immunisation.

The study recommends that all migrant workers at the brick kilns should get BPL cards which would help them avail of facilities provided by the Government including the PDS facility at the work zone also. “A very effective method of tracking of the education status of the migrant children should be devised and adopted. Adequate and regular capacity building measures for the education volunteers should be ensured because these volunteers impart education/training to children of different aptitudes, age groups, and from diversified linguistic groups,” according to the study.

Teresa Rehman is an award-winning journalist who chronicles the lives of ordinary people in the seven states that make up the North-East of India. She was born in Shillong and started her journalistic career in Delhi before returning to report on the untold stories of a region marked by state-sponsored violence against its people and a strong sense of neglect and alienation from 'mainstream' India. Winner of two 'Excellence in Journalism' awards.

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