Migration is the geographic movement of a person across political and administrative boundaries with both long and short term purposes. Indian constitution has the provision to right to movement, according to which people of India can freely move within India in search of better opportunities or otherwise. Migration basically refers to movement of an individual, family or group of people from one geographical region to another for a number of reasons like social, economic, cultural, and sometimes non-economic factors too.



The COVID pandemic has drastically affected the whole world. The whole world was locked in their homes for the last two months restricting their movement. This lockdown has disturbed the whole economy, many people lost their employment and social lives came to an end.

Among these people there was a population of people working for different sectors and

Industries. This population of workers working in the industries of big cities is the internal migrants of the country. They often come from the rural and less developed area of the state in search of livelihood and employment. Migrant labours though come with big dreams to cities, but they face a high risk of exploitation and unfair recruitment practices.


Of all the population suffering, the underprivileged and vulnerable groups have confronted the most extreme financial pressure. Within India, a sufficient portion of individuals relocates every year for rudimentary occupations in service, sales, building, and domestic industries. Generally, they are exposed to discrimination, work-rights exploitation, and job insecurity. The onset of COVID-19 has complemented these issues in phenomenal manners. The Supreme Court of India took note of this situation and offered headings to the administrations to deal with the immediate needs of vagrant labours.


According to a report of United Nations,

• About 60 % of urban male migrants and 59 % of urban female migrants come from rural areas.

• These include 36 % employed in construction industries, 20.4 % in agriculture 15.9 % in manufacturing, and rest in trade and transport.

• Most short duration immigrants are young, within 15- 29 years age group.

• Approximately 52 % of the out- migrants are either illiterate or have not completed their elementary education.


Migration of labours is one of the biggest social as well as political issues of the 21st century, which is affecting more than 230 million populations worldwide. It is not just a mere movement of people across boundaries but is a much more complex issue that involves development, safety, exploitation and various other social issues.

In India, as per census 2001, about 307 million person have been reported as migration by place of birth. Out of them about 259 million (84.2%), migrated from on e part of the state to another, i.e., from one village or town to another village or town. 42 million (2%) from outside the country. The data on migration by last residence in India as per Census 2001 shows that the total number of migrants has been 314 million. Out of these migrants by last residence, 268 million (85%) has been intra-state migrants, those who migrated from one are of the state to another. 41 million (13%) were interstate migrants and 5.1 million (1.6%) migrated from outside of the country.



Every situation has two faces, and so does migration. Migration of labours in the country is very essential from the economic point of view. It also contributes in improving the socio-economic conditions of the citizens. Migration can help, for instance, to improve income, development of skills, and also to provide greater access to services like education and healthcare. This also helps in improving the quality of life of the workers. Skilled workers get a chance to enhance their skills and earn a good living using this skill. Many times they get appreciated and noticed for their work and grab some really big platforms where they get a chance to showcase their skills, which is barely possible in their hometowns. Due to lack of opportunities and platform these talents do not have to get suppressed in cities and towns.


In spite of positive results of movement, the procedure of relocation can be very challenging for both male and female vagrant labourers, regardless of whether it is intentional or distress (forced) relocation. The challenge is that migrants generally form a class of invisible labours. They work in helpless conditions, with zero access to government services and plans, which are normally accessible to other labours. There are various dangers in source and goal areas. Requirements of relatives, including babies, youngsters, teenagers and elderly who go with transient labourers or are abandoned in source regions also needs attention but are often neglected.


In their daily life, migrant workers have to face numerous difficulties either because of helplessness or lack of knowledge. Though the government has laid many rules protecting the rights of migrant workers but they still get exploited due to the lack of awareness of their rights as ‘migrant workers’. These workers come from very poor family backgrounds and have to work hard since their childhood period. Though child labour is potential crime in India but children still do work in all sectors even today. Even after all the government policies and social campaigns, child labour still remains a major issue of concern. The children are compelled to work for their and their family’s basic survival needs. And the industries hire them as they do not have to pay the child labours high wages. All these socio- economic conditions do not allow the children of these labours to attain proper education and knowledge which in turn brings a dark future for the society. This lack of education in workers leads to exploitation of their rights, their girls, their children, their wages and their own selves.


Sometimes even after knowing their rights they have to bear the injustice as they get suppressed by their power full and corrupt seniors. They are made to do more work and are paid wages lower than prescribed. The agents coerce them and do not pay minimum wages as stipulated by law. The pain does not stop here.

Bonded labour practice is formally abolished and criminalized, but researchers suggest that the former is still prevalent in the country. A 2016 report found that in state of Tamil Nadu, 351 of 743 spinning mills use bonded labours, otherwise known as Sumangali schemes.

A major population of vagrants includes female workers. They easily fall prey to human trafficking and physical abuse. Powerful agents, by force and coercion abuse girls and sell them for money. Being helpless, their voices are suppressed and no one dares to report the matter. Not only women but men also get trafficked to different reasons. There are gangs involved in smuggling of organs and they target poor and needy people. Most of the times the workers lose their organs unknowingly but even if they find it somehow, workers are convinced to donate their organs by force or sometimes in greed of money which is again a very small amount. But they still do these things, mostly unknowingly due to lack of proper education and knowledge.

The 2011 Transplantation of Human Organs (amendment) Act allowed an immediate relative to be a living donor, growing the organ trafficking industry and their illegal procedures to forge documents to show donors as family. In some parts of India, people use their kidneys as collateral for money lenders. Researches show the sale of kidneys from the “kidney belt” region of southern India to other countries.


Labours who are engaged in seasonal occupations such as brick kilns or agriculture are often trapped in debt and bondage. Landlords capture their lands and their hard earned money by tricking them. Other workers in industries like, for instance, coal mine suffer poor and unsafe living and working conditions. They are made to work in such an environment where their health conditions are kept at stake. Lack of occupational health and safety leads to either deceiving of labours at a very early age or catching chronic diseases which, for them are incurable due to their financial conditions. Most of the times due to their financial crisis, labours cannot provide their children with basic nutritional needs which leads to malnutrition and the later gives invitation to a number of diseases.

Some studies reveals that majority of the migrant labours (56%) seems to be affected by all kinds of skin diseases. Skin related problems occur because of heavy disposal of sunrays when the workers work in the fields. Majority of the labours (59%) say that fencing or physical barriers are not available to prevent unauthorized entry. Most of them say (90%) that heat stress, noise, dust related problem, vibration and stress problem are common in the work place and the problems of lighting, radiation, renal, liver and occupational cancers are due to work. Migrant women workers are not having any basic facilities. They are deprived of their basic rights and are exploited by the contractors.


They have to face innumerable challenges at their worksite including violence. Young girls are often abused physically at the worksites by the men in authority. In many cases, even the parents know about the fact but due to some reasons or fear of losing the job on which their living depends, they do not raise their voice and even teach their daughters the same. These girls are taught from the very early stage that abuse and harassment kind of things are very common and they have to keep they voices down and bear it for the sake of their family and survival.

There is evidence pointing to an emerging trend in northeast India where trafficking syndicates work undetected along the open and unmanned international borders, forcing young, educated girls seeking employment outside their local area into forced sexual exploitation. According to a Caritas report, trafficking of children is particularly prevalent in the north eastern state of Assam where in 2016 at least 129 girls were forced into sex work by traffickers. Physical violence, threats, debt bondage, and rape were commonly used to limit a victim’s ability to resist sex work.


The recent COVID pandemic has added adversely to the difficulties of migrant workers, leaving many of them jobless and even homeless. Due to fear of falling prey to the contagious Coronavirus people did not come out of their homes. Government suspended all services except the most essential ones like ration shops and hospitals. As a result many industries went bankrupt, many brands had to shut their stores, and small businesses were barely able to pay their staff due to no sales and income. The enterprises that shut their stores, their staff got unemployed. Many industries cut their staff count up to 50 percent to cut their expenses. These workers lost their jobs. Such workers do not have very high salaries, as result of which they can’t save or invest money for future purposes. They get paid only as much as to fulfill their daily food needs and not a penny more than that. These workers got unemployed, and had no savings for future, and many of them were far away from their homes living in different cities in rental homes and were depended on their daily wages for food and shelter. Now they were left with no money and could not afford the basis requirements for survival. Fathers went helpless when their children yearned for even a single meal in a whole day. This was the time when they decided to head back to their villages. But the transportation services were also suspended all at once as the country saw a difficult phase of lockdown for weeks. They could see no ray of hope from anywhere. Many of them were starving to death and the others were easily falling prey to COVID disease because of living in slums and not being able follow the safety standards. This created a environment of panic amongst the community. They came on roads and started walking towards their destinations. many of them died on their way and other who survived and walked hundreds of kilometers reach their villages got abandoned by their families and the villagers in fear of getting infected. The villagers thought these workers to be corona carriers who could probably be proven the cause of infection in the village later on. Now these people are not only jobless but also homeless.

According to a report of Hindustan Times, a group of young boys stuck in UP, left with no wages had to sell three mobile phones to buy food. Selling a mobile phone, the only connection with their families, has become an act of ultimate desperation to survive in these times. These workers face many issues, but this time their mental health got affected.


The Apex court of the country took a note of this situation and asked the authorities to pay attention to the immediate needs of the migrants. The court issued a notice in favor of the workers stating ‘they should not be prosecuted for trying to reach home amid the national lockdown.’ A bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan directed the notice. Else otherwise these workers would have faced a year in prison or been fined or suffered both if found guilty of obstructing the law under section 51 of Disaster Management Act. Later on the government also arranged for special buses and trains for the workers to travel to their native places. Arrangements were also made for them to quarantine and COVID test to prevent everyone from infection.


In India most forms of modern slavery, including trafficking, bonded and forced labour, child labour, sexual exploitation, and slavery have been criminalized.

In May 2016, a draft trafficking of persons (prevention, protection and rehabilitation) Bill was announced which was approved by Union Cabinet in late February 2018.

In 2016, “Central Sector Schemes for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourers” came into force. Under this scheme different groups trapped in bonded labour are provided with cash compensation.

Ministry of Women and Child Development have initiated Ujjawala and Swadhar schemes for rehabilitation and rescuing victims of trafficking, domestic violence, homeless women, and women in distress, who are in need of shelter.

In 2016, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act prescribed a minimum working age of 14 years for children and 18 years for hazardous work.

Government supports initiative like Track Child and “Khoya- Paya” to trace and rescue vulnerable children.

Integrated Child Protection Scheme and other child welfare committees play an important role in protecting the rescued children.

In 2015, Ministry of External Affairs launched the eMigrate online recruitment system to ensure that the foreign employers comply with regulations of Emigration Act 1983.


Intl. Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

ILO Convention 29 - Forced Labour, 1930

ILO Convention 97 - Migration for Employment (Revised), 1949

ILO Convention 105 – Abolition of Forced Labour, 1957

ILO Convention 143 – Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions), 1975

ILO Convention 181 – Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997


Economic growth in India highly depends on the migrant labours. Migrant workers have contributed to the national economy in an enormous manner but in turn they do not even get security and basic needs for their well-being. It is the immediate need of the hour to create healthy working environment for the workers keeping their health conditions in mind so that they can get the utmost rewards for their hardships. Until these needs are fulfilled, sustainable growth of the state will remain a distant dream.

Though there exists numerous legislations and schemes to combat exploitation of migrants, but there still exists a severe gap between the government policies and their implementation.

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