India is the resident of the largest number of children (472 million children) in the world. According to the 2011 census, 10.1 million children in India between the age group of 5 and 14 years had been suffering from child labour, of which 32.9% had been engaged in agricultural activities and 5.2% in the household industry.
The critical situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns had pushed millions of children into child labour and Indian children are the ones who are most widely prone to it. Some reports claim that in India over 40 million children had been affected due to the pandemic, of which the maximum numbers of children belong to the poor families. The covid-19 situation had mainly impacted the children living in slums, in the streets, in railway stations, or under flyovers.
With the increase in the impact on children due to the pandemic, there had also been an increase in child labour in the country, owing to several factors such as social, financial, etc. The Covid-19 crisis had made children to—
Move out of school
According to the reports, about 6 million children in India had been out of school, even in the pre-Covid times. But now, as a result of the pandemic, a noticeably large number of children (247 million) are not being able to go to schools, out of which 28 million children were engaged in pre-school education from the ‘Anganwadi centres’.
Now that the schools are closed, and classroom education had shifted to the digitalized one, only a few percentages of students have access to the internet and technology to attend the online classes. The closure of the schools, moreover, had made the Indian children, especially the poor ones, more exposing to the risk of engaging themselves in small jobs. Apart from education, the government schools also provided the children with their basic needs such as food, clothing, sanitary napkins (for girls), social security, etc., which now, the online mode of education are unable to provide them with. Thus, to meet these needs the children are bound to push themselves towards child labour.
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Relapse into Informal Labour
With the closure of the schools, as a result of the Covid-19 situation, a large number of children might drop out of the schools and engage themselves in labour works to help their families financially. It had been found out that with the increase in the family seeking financial support, there had also been an upward movement in the child labour rate. The pandemic had left millions of migrant families without jobs. Such a situation of unemployment might force these families to work in a hazardous environment and expose the children to jobs with long hours of work and fewer wages. The Covid-19 and unemployment had given rise to informal job sectors that do not consider the betterment of the labourers. These are the sectors in which child labour is most prominent as it prefers labourers who are not skilled.
Overcoming the Challenges
Various efforts and initiatives had been taken over the years by the ILO (Indian Labour Organization) and UNICEF, to overcome this challenge taking in concern the Indian child labour issues. Several laws and acts such as Child Labour Amendment (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 2016, and Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2016, had been made to prevent the children from exploitation.
As a response to the ongoing crisis too, these two organizations had come up with a response. ILO had adopted a framework to support small and medium scale enterprises; they had provided space for social dialogue to resolve immediate problems and had ensured provision of employment, whereas, UNICEF had been working to provide children with resources for learning and protecting them against violence and abuses.
Not only these organizations, but various NGOs have also come up and raised their voice for the welfare of children. Apart from this, several other organizations had also claimed that all children should have access to critical and all essential services.
Social safety and strengthening of social policies are the best way to prevent child labour. Public Distribution Systems, healthcare, employment, and most importantly education are the primary services that work in the prevention of this challenge. Thus, India should ensure that it will be able to provide every Indian child with the basic standard living and human rights which will further facilitate them with a better living without exploitation.