Covid Pandemic Fuels Child Labour Crisis
ON “WORLD DAY AGAINST CHILD LABOUR” REALTY+ CONNECTED WITH CHILD RIGHT ACTIVISTS WHO HIGHLIGHTED THE SERIOUS SITUATION OF CHILD LABOUR IN INDIA AND HOW COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS MADE IT EVEN WORSE.
By: Dolly Singh
According to the ILO, India has around 12.9 million child labour working in difficult work environment, although there are a number of government schemes and programs engaged in preventing and rehabilitation of child labour. The National Policy for Children (NPC), Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, Integrated Child Protection Services Scheme etc are some existing policies and programs to address the issue.
Despite rates of child labour declining over the last few years, across India child labourers can be found in a variety of construction segments like brick kilns, job-sites or construction material factories. The second Covid wave has further deteriorated the financial condition of construction workforce and daily wage earners forcing many children into labour.
GRIM REALITY OF COVID SECOND WAVE
Second wave of Covid-19 has left migrant workers with no savings and few job opportunities. With financial insecurity, reduced household income and schools closed, Covid-19 pandemic has created such situation where children of labor workforce are forced to work at construction site, glass, brick, and cement factories. Most of the child labor seen working in industries belong to daily wage earners hailing from Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. Socio economic backwardness, illiteracy and lack of job for the parents is forcing many children from as young as 10 years to 14 years into unorganized job market for a meagre pay.
CONCERN RAISED BY CHILD RIGHT ACTIVISTS
Covid-19 has reversed decades of progress in schooling and in preventing child labour. According to child right activists, as the economy declines with increasing lockdowns, more underprivileged children will enter the labour market. They will never return to school notwithstanding laws against employing children below 14. Our national figures for literacy and education will dip sharply.
Children are always considered as ‘cheap labour’ hence vastly preferred and employed by labour market and employers. In the absence of availability of adult labourers in urban areas (since they have migrated to their native places), the demand for employing children specially adolescents may rise in the coming days.
Kailash Satyarthi, Founder, Kailash Sathyarthi Children Foundation highlighting the crisis expressed, “In India, we know that as the number of cases surge in rural India and healthcare services cripples under their weight, it is the children who will bear its consequences. Out of school, limited digital access and increasing food insecurity has already aggravated their vulnerability. Now, with entire families being wiped out, what will happen to the children? They will be trafficked, forced to work, live on the streets or succumb to the virus itself. The pandemic is not only health or economic crisis – it is a crisis of justice, a crisis of civilisation and a crisis of humanity.”
Soha Moitra, Regional Director, Child Rights and You (CRY) elaborated on the present scenario, “With a huge impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on nation’s economy, financial insecurity in poor households increased due to massive loss of work and wages and reduced employment opportunities, thus making children more vulnerable. They are likely to be pushed into unskilled labour to compensate for the economic loss and to supplement dwindling family income, especially the older children, who are experiencing the struggle of their families and loss of livelihood. Moreover, with schools being shut ensuring continuation of education for all children, especially the ones from marginalised households would be critical at this juncture.
“Children are always considered as ‘cheap labour’ hence vastly preferred and employed by labour market and employers. In the absence of availability of adult labourers in urban areas (since they have migrated to their native places), the demand for employing children specially adolescents may rise in the coming days.”
KAILASH SATYARTHI HAS DEMANDED 4 ASKS
1. First and foremost, to give health a fundamental right.
2. The creation of a national task force to address the direct and indirect impact of the pandemic on children
3. Accelerated trials for vaccinations for children, dedicated pediatric facilities in every district
4. Support to childcare institutions with COVID-19 related equipment and assistance.
“Non-Government and Civil Society Organizations should support and strengthen government efforts, especially when it comes to identifying vulnerable children. They can join in the effort to build awareness and act as channels for multiplying children’s voices. They can also play huge role in reaching out to last mile child and families and help government to deliver the social protection schemes to children and their families,” Soha Moitra, Regional Director, Child Rights And You (CRY).
SAVING THE LOST GENERATION
What makes situation more concerning is, duet to COVID-19 several states (including those with high prevalence of child and adolescent labour) have made relaxations to their labour laws including extending work hours form 8 hours to 12 hours per day, limited time for rest, relaxations in inspections and monitoring by authorities, restricted grievance redress mechanisms and collective bargaining through labour unions. Even though, labour laws for children remain unchanged, the spill-over effect of adult workers is likely to have a negative impact, especially for adolescent workers.
Soha Moitra added, “Our partner organisations working in various states across the country and their ground reports suggests that child labour is significantly on rise. We along with our alliance are constantly stressing to strengthen the community on addressing the issue of child labour by building the capacity of the vigilant groups, VLCPC, Para Legal Volunteers through online training and Child Center approach. Also, we are stressing on linking of the families with PDS so that such families can get ration. If any case is identified of child labour, ensure rescuing of the child with the support of Childline, DCPU, and Labour Department taskforce and ensure rehabilitation of the children through CWC. Reporting the cases on the PENCIL portal.”