Circular migration and child nutrition: a study among families who seasonally migrate to the brick kilns of Bihar, India Open Access

Roshania, Reshma (Summer 2021)

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Background: Poverty and systemic inequities are basic causes of undernutrition that also drive households to engage in circular migration for livelihood. An estimated 100 million people circularly migrate in India, including women and young children. Yet, the nutritional implications of repeated shifts in food and health environments between home and destination has not been studied.

Methods: Using a mixed-methods approach, we collected primary data among circular migrants working in the brick industry throughout the state of Bihar, India. Using a stratified cluster sampling design, we conducted a cross-sectional survey across 1156 randomly selected brick kilns in 37 districts in June 2018 and January 2019. We collected anthropometric data and migration histories on 2564 migrant children under three. We utilized qualitative methods to explore migrant parents’ perceived changes in key dimensions of the food environment between home and destination spaces. Lastly, to compare the nutrition status of circular migrant children with children in male migrant and non-migrant households, we pooled our survey data with data from a parallel study conducted in ten districts of Bihar; we statistically created comparable groups using multinomial covariate balancing propensity scores.

Results: Our results suggest there are nutritional advantages during migration for children, namely concerning food security and affordability of nutritious foods; there are also nutritional risks during migration, namely loss of access to essential public health services such as growth monitoring and immunization. We found that among circular migrant children who first migrate in early life, those who migrate multiple times have a higher likelihood of stunting compared to those who migrate once. Overall, circular migrant children are less than half as likely to be stunted, but twice as likely to be wasted compared to children in comparable male and non-migrant households.

Conclusions: Policy efforts should address the structural causes of undernutrition and enable safe, dignified migration by upholding workers’ rights to fair wages, children’s education/child care, and social entitlements. Households in rural India that experience similar class, education and caste vulnerabilities as circular migrant households but do not engage in migration must also be prioritized for nutrition and food security programs.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction 1

1.1 Research Aim 1 3

1.2 Research Aim 2 4

1.3 Research Aim 3 4

References 6

Chapter 2. Background 8

2.1 Migration and development: theoretical foundations 8

2.2 Migration in India 9

2.3 Circular migration and nutrition 14

References 16

Chapter 3. Methodology 20

3.1 Conceptual framework 20

3.2 Defining and identifying the study population 21

3.3 Study context 23

3.4 Formative research 25

3.5 Research Aim 1 Methods 25

3.6 Research Aim 2 Methods 29

3.7 Research Aim 3 Methods 32

3.8 Ethics 36

References 37

Chapter 4. Early life migration and undernutrition among circular migrant children: an observational study in the brick kilns of Bihar, India 40

4.1 Introduction 41

4.2 Methods 46

4.3 Results 51

4.4 Discussion 60

References 65

Chapter 5. Food environments, food security and household food availability of circular migrant families: a mixed methods study among brick kiln laborers in Bihar, India 71

5.1 Introduction 72

5.2 Methods 75

5.3 Results 80

5.4 Discussion 95

References 100

Chapter 6. Circular migration and child nutrition: a comparison of children from family circular migrant, male migrant, and non-migrant households in Bihar, India 103

6.1 Introduction 104

6.2 Methods 106

6.3 Results 111

6.4 Discussion 117

References 124

Chapter 7. Discussion 128

7.1 Key findings 129

7.2 Strengths and innovations 132

7.3 Limitations 133

7.4 Implications 134

7.5 Conclusion 140

References 141

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