Nutrition Among Children of Migrant Construction Workers in Ahmedabad, India

Divya Ravindranath, Jean-Francois Trani, Lora Iannotti | 2019


Background:Millions of poor households in India undertake short duration rural to urban migration along with their children to find work in the informal economy in the city. While literature has documented the precarity of such temporary jobs, typically characterized by low wages, insecure jobs, harsh recruitment regimes and economic vulnerability, little is known about its implications for children who migrate with their parents to the city. In this study, we draw attention to children of migrant construction workers and focus on their overall nutritional well-being, which remains under-studied. Our objectives were to categorize the current nutritional status of children under the age of five and determine the underlying causes of poor nutritional outcomes.

Methods:The field work for this study was undertaken between May 2017 and January 2018 at five construction sites in the city of Ahmedabad. We undertook anthropometric measurements of children under the age of five [N = 131; (male: 46%, female 53%); (mean age: 31.7 months)] and categorized their nutritional status. Using the UNICEF framework on undernutrition, we examined the underlying causes of poor nutritional outcomes among this group of children with the help of qualitative methods such as interviews, focused group discussions and participant observation at the field sites.

Results:Undernutrition was highly prevalent among the children (N = 131): stunted (40.5%); wasted (22.1%); and underweight (50.4%). We found common factors across parents interviewed such as similar misperceptions of malnutrition, long hours of work and lack of childcare provision at the worksite which resulted in disrupted quality of care. While socio-cultural beliefs and lack of information influenced breastfeeding, other factors such as inability to take breaks or lack of space further impaired infant feeding practices more broadly. Lack of dietary diversity at home, poor hygiene and sanitation, and economic inability to seek healthcare further affected child nutritional status.

Conclusions:Our study addresses a critical gap in migration literature in India by building a comprehensive narrative of migrant children’s experiences at construction sites. We find that parents’ informal work setting exposes children to a nutritionally challenging environment. Policies and programs seeking to address undernutrition, a critical challenge in India, must pay attention to the specific needs of migrant children.