The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed all the states to submit data on migrant children and inform it about their condition amid the coronavirus pandemic, Live Law reported. The court also asked the states to submit details of the benefits being given to them.

A bench of Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian was hearing a petition filed by a non-governmental organisation called the Child Rights Trust, which sought the protection of the fundamental rights of children amid the health crisis.

The petitioner argued that the government had not addressed the impact of last year’s countrywide lockdown on migrant children. “They [migrant children] are of three categories – children of migrant workers who are left behind in their villages, children who are taken by the migrant families with them and migrant children who migrate for labour of their own,” the petitioner said. “All these children have been the most vulnerable during this time and have been worst affected.”

The NGO alleged that migrant children were denied access to health, food, education and good housing.

It added that the children were working in brick kilns, stone crusher units, construction sites and rice mills to support their parents. “The pandemic is having a discriminatory impact on migrant children and has aggravated their vulnerabilities,” the petitioner said, according to PTI. “Migrant children will be denied their fundamental rights to education, health and nutrition if the matter is not heard and appropriate orders passed by this court.”

Also read: How daily wage workers in India suffered in the lockdown – and continue to struggle months later

The sudden lockdown announced by the government on March 25 last year had triggered an exodus of migrant workers. Stranded in big cities without work, hundreds of thousands of them then began long journeys to home on foot, sometimes over distances of more than 1,000 km. Some died on the way due to illness and exhaustion, while others died in road accidents. The government started over 300 “Shramik” special trains on May 1 to help the workers get home, as it faced criticism from the Opposition.

In September, the Centre told the Parliament that it had no data available on the number of deaths of migrant workers.

The Centre’s response contrasted with the data provided by the Railway Protection Force in May. It showed that nearly 80 migrant workers died of starvation or heat sickness while travelling on special trains between May 9 and May 27.