UNICEF steps in with relief for migrant children and women

UNICEF Hyderabad Field Office convenes partners in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka on a swift response to support needy migrants.

Prosun Sen and Avinaash Kastura
09 June 2020

“I am so grateful for this support,” said teary Shantibai, a heavily pregnant migrant worker from Chhattisgarh after receiving a special health-hygiene’ kit. The special kit contained essential items to ensure that Shantibai would have everything she needed to return home safely. The kit was just one of hundreds being distributed to women and children to ensure they had something nutritious to eat along with some basic hygiene items as they set out on journeys to their native states following the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Shantibai received her kit at the transit relief centre in Adilabad, Telangana established by UNICEF and partners to help needy children and families.

Shantibai receiving the speical UNICEF kit in Adilabad.
Shantibai receiving the speical UNICEF kit in Adilabad.

Shantibai is one of the many thousands of migrant workers who are embarking on arduous journeys to their distant homes in the face of the Pandemic that has gripped India. For most migrants and their families the past weeks have been challenging - with no work, money or even shelter, all they want is to get back home.

For many the experience has been traumatizing, such as for Latha who found herself without work or a place to live as soon as the lock down was lifted. 

“The owner of the brick kiln where I was working tried to beat me with a stick and asked me to evacuate the premises immediately. My children and I have nowhere to go except our native village,”

Latha a migrant woman worker from Odisha

Sadly, Latha and most of her fellow migrant workers lack the very means to support themselves during the return journey, posing a severe threat specially to the well-being of children, pregnant women and lactating mothers.

With this urgent need in view, the UNICEF Hyderabad Field Office, in consultation with the State Governments and State Commissions for the Protection of Child Rights in the three states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, galvanized civil society partners and networks, volunteers and donors on a joint action to support these migrants, with specific focus on children and women.

Convening Partners, Leveraging Resources

State-specific plans were made and relief centers quickly set up at strategic transit points in two locations in Telangana - Adilabad and Badhrachalam - and three locations in Andhra Pradesh - Visakhapatnam, Srikakulam and Gudur - with the support of child rights bodies in the two states, including UNICEF’s partners Alliance on Child Rights (ACR - AP and Telangana - led by MAHITA), EFICOR, NATURE, CADME and others. At these centers, the focus was to provide basic relief services like rest, recuperation, sanitation and first-aid to over 1100 children and adults daily.

In Karnataka a joint plan was coordinated with the state government’s COVID-19 Taskforce and UNICEF’s civil society partner, the Karnataka Child Rights Observatory (KCRO), that focused on providing exclusive hygiene and nutrition support daily to over 500 migrant children, pregnant women and lactating mothers at railway boarding points as well as urban slum migrant settlements in the capital city of Bengaluru.

The relief efforts were further bolstered by scores of volunteers and local donors who came forward to support this massive initiative across the states, motivated by the example set by UNICEF and partners.

UNICEF was also able to facilitate direct corporate donations to the state governments in form of soaps, sanitizers and food rations for children and migrant relief, by coordinating the appeals of the respective state governments with the local chapters of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Young Indians and other partners.

Kits being distributed at a railway station in Bengaluru.
Kits being distributed at a railway station in Bengaluru.

Relief Operations

A constant monitoring mechanism was put in place to relay real time information on departure of buses ferrying migrants, number of passengers, children and women from the boarding points, to keep the relief operations ready accordingly at the Relief Centers set up in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

To ease the migrants’ journey and keeping in mind their health and hygiene needs, a rest facility was set up, especially for women and children. These facilities ensured women and children had access to clean toilets, soap and water for hand washing and some light refreshments - all free of cost. Basic medical first aid was provided with referral to medical team for checkup if needed. Finally, special ‘health-hygiene kits’ were distributed to ensure every child and woman would have access to basic hygiene and nutrition during their onward journey. Two separate kits were made – one for adults and one exclusively for children. The adult kits included adults were given two liters of water, fruit, a bun or bread, masks, soap and sanitary pads (for women), while the children's kit contained oral re-hydration salts (ORS), chikkis or a nutri-bar and a bun or bread.

A brief counseling session would be conducted before parents departed from the transit points on taking care of children during travel and also the state helpline numbers were shared. The relief effort teams would be in touch with the bus drivers and migrants during the journey until they safely reach their destinations.

In Karnataka, the intervention to provide a special kit with essentials to migrant children, pregnant women and lactating mothers at railway boarding points and urban slums has been closely supported by the state government with anganwadi workers proving a list of children and mothers requiring assistance and also many businesses coming forward to add provisions to the relief basket.

“It is heart-warming to see so many partners, volunteers and donors converge to aid the needy migrants. But for UNICEF, the real success will count when we learn that these children, women and families have returned home safe and in good health,” said Meital Rusdia, Chief of UNICEF Field Office for Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana.