Institute for Social and Economic Change

Established in 1972 by Professor V K R V Rao, ISEC is an All-India Institute for Interdisciplinary Research and Training in the Social Sciences

The Child and the City: Autonomous Migrants in Bangalore – isec

The Child and the City: Autonomous Migrants in Bangalore


Literature on child migration has presented migration as a positive move in the lives of poor children, opening up credible alternatives in their lives. On this view, child movement does not necessarily reflect economic distress or family rupture, it may be the result of children’s independent agency, a self betterment strategy. These views are in keeping with the broader development literature where migration has been a positive sub – narrative in the story of modernization/ urbanization, which will inevitably happen in the course of development.

Our research into the lives of migrant children in Bangalore city led us to question these dominant assumptions in the literature. Autonomous child migrants (those who live on their own, or in foster homes, in the city) migrate due to acute economic want, frequently attended by serious familial dysfunction. Migrant children immediately become economic actors in the city, their lives attended by multiple deprivations. Child migration represents the movement of the child from rural to urban poverty, although the face of each is very different. In our findings, the city opens up opportunities for earning, but not for education or occupational or social mobility for migrant children.

Recent theorization on urban poverty has drawn attention to the structural exclusion of large numbers of unskilled workers, in the urban informal sector, from the benefits of technology driven and capital intensive globalized development in third world cities. In terms of this broad analytical framework, migration could represent stagnant ghettoes rather than rising tides of development which carry large numbers of rural aspirants towards urban prosperity. This paper locates migrant children in Bangalore city in the context of this broad political economy understanding of urban exclusion.

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