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Open Access Research article

A qualitative case study of child protection issues in the Indian construction industry: investigating the security, health, and interrelated rights of migrant families

Theresa S Betancourt12*, Ashkon Shaahinfar2, Sarah E Kellner2, Nayana Dhavan2 and Timothy P Williams23

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health, 651 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA

2 Research Program on Children and Global Adversity, François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University, 651 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA

3 Department of Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath, Bath, UK

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:858  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-858

Published: 17 September 2013



Many of India’s estimated 40 million migrant workers in the construction industry migrate with their children. Though India is undergoing rapid economic growth, numerous child protection issues remain. Migrant workers and their children face serious threats to their health, safety, and well-being. We examined risk and protective factors influencing the basic rights and protections of children and families living and working at a construction site outside Delhi.


Using case study methods and a rights-based model of child protection, the SAFE model, we triangulated data from in-depth interviews with stakeholders on and near the site (including employees, middlemen, and managers); 14 participants, interviews with child protection and corporate policy experts in greater Delhi (8 participants), and focus group discussions (FGD) with workers (4 FGDs, 25 members) and their children (2 FGDs, 9 members).


Analyses illuminated complex and interrelated stressors characterizing the health and well-being of migrant workers and their children in urban settings. These included limited access to healthcare, few educational opportunities, piecemeal wages, and unsafe or unsanitary living and working conditions. Analyses also identified both protective and potentially dangerous survival strategies, such as child labor, undertaken by migrant families in the face of these challenges.


By exploring the risks faced by migrant workers and their children in the urban construction industry in India, we illustrate the alarming implications for their health, safety, livelihoods, and development. Our findings, illuminated through the SAFE model, call attention to the need for enhanced systems of corporate and government accountability as well as the implementation of holistic child-focused and child-friendly policies and programs in order to ensure the rights and protection of this hyper-mobile, and often invisible, population.

India; Labor migration; Child protection; Case study; SAFE model