Income shocks strongly increase vulnerability to debt bondage and human trafficking of returnee migrants in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar owing to lack of access to government schemes: Survey by Human Liberty Network (HLN) reveals

New Delhi: Human Liberty Network (HLN), a network of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) with a vision for a human trafficking free society, released the findings of survey conducted in 15 districts of Bihar and 6 districts of Uttar Pradesh with 1200+ respondents revealing major challenges related to livelihood, access to health services, nutrition and basic needs post the return of migrant workers, which is strongly increasing their vulnerability to rural distress, debt bondage and human trafficking. The survey further reinforced targeted and coordinated efforts from the state governments and community-based organizations, for rapid implementation of support mechanisms for the vulnerable.

In the survey titled “Immediate Requirements to Allay Rural Distress and Human Trafficking” the following disturbing statistics came to fore:

Bihar

Only 29% of the population has active job cards; districts Saharsa, Sitamarhi, and Gopalganj are underperforming in providing jobs; only 37% of Gram Panchayats have adopted special measures for the single women workers
79.8% of Panchayats in the study area surveyed home visits by ASHA; 79.53% of the Panchayats did not survey any VHND conducted in the past 2 months
Uttar Pradesh

The unemployment rate has risen to 23.8% in May 2020; work demanded under MGNREGA has increased by 307%; poor coverage of special measures and low functioning of Common Service Centers (CSC)
60.77% of the Panchayats in the study area did not survey any VHND conducted in the past 2 months.

Some of the major barriers to accessing the government schemes are:

Fall in access to institutional deliveries – In UP, Bhadohi and Prayagraj and in Bihar, Purnea (80%) and Katihar (74%) registered highest fall. Due to this fall, the women are not being able to access government benefits and instead are forced to borrow money from private moneylenders further increasing vulnerability to bonded labour and human trafficking.
Lack of access to preventive healthcare through VHND and ANM/ ASHA workers etc. has led to rising incidence of Anaemia among children and women where Chandauli (66.4% & 55.4%) and Azamgrah (61.8% & 61.7%) in UP and Kishanganj (65.2% & 62%) and Purnea (66.5% & 72.2%) in Bihar have surveyed the highest prevalence, placing them at risk of debt bondage to meet emergency healthcare needs.
Difficulty in accessing benefits under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). Bhadohi (57%) and Prayagraj (44%) in UP and Katihar (57%) and Saharsa (58%) in Bihar surveyed that more children have not been enrolled in Angandwadi Centres (AWCs) leading to cases of malnourishment
Difficulties in accessing free rations and free gas cylinders under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana

Underlining urgent interventions, Human Liberty Network strongly recommended:

Improving livelihood: Mandate door to door registration of job cards; spreading awareness on MGNREGA through Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities; registration of single women for MGNREGA job cards; expansion of the scope of work in accordance with the skill mapping, increasing coverage and functionality of CSCs
Non-COVID related health issues: Coverage of Government healthcare schemes including Ayushman Bharat should be rapidly expanded especially among the most vulnerable communities to address a key driver of debt bondage i.e. emergency healthcare costs.
Improving access to education:
Special measures are taken so that vulnerable children can return to school as soon as possible
Special workers should be tasked with identifying all out-of-school children, re-enrolling and retaining them
Special measures should be taken to disassociate schools from the stigma of being converted into quarantine centres.

Improve access to all schemes: As Know Your Consumer (KYC) compliance is the biggest reason for poor disbursement of free dry ration. Identification process of poor families without ration cards by JEEVIKA Self Help Groups should be strengthened.

Speaking on the findings of the survey, a member of the Human Liberty Network, said, “The impact of COVID-19 and lockdown situation has been most severe on communities that are already disadvantaged and vulnerable to shocks. The network undertook this study to assess the impact on livelihood, health, education, nutrition, and basic needs associated with COVID-19. It illustrates the links between these effects and an increased vulnerability to human trafficking and conditions of bondage by providing a rapid assessment of the ground realities vis-à-vis policy measures to assist the government in providing action-oriented steps. Our top recommendations are that the issues surrounding marginalized communities should be addressed through coordinated efforts with key stakeholders. The governments should adopt measures for strengthening the accountability of Rozgar Sewaks and improving monitoring mechanisms through door to door registration of job cards for returning migrants.”

As a result of the lockdown, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have been the worst affected states due to reverse migration, with 30 lakh people returning to Uttar Pradesh and 32 Lakh returning to Bihar as per the survey. Influx of such large numbers is displaying a direct impact on the rise of social injustice in the region. Stronger enforcement and better coordination between multiple stakeholders with a holistic can therefore play a game-changing role in protecting the lives of returnee migrants from exploitation and human trafficking.

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