Will Covid -19 exacerbate child labour situation in India?

Incidence of child labour (5-14 years) as reported in Census 2011 witnessed significant reduction as compared to 2001. Reduction in the incidence of child labour is indeed a good news, but seeing more than four million children working in India is quite disheartening.  Child labour is a human rights issue. When a child is employed, she/he is less likely to attend school or attend only intermittingly, trapping them in the cycle of poverty.

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Source: Census Data - Govt. of India

The nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 has made the life of millions changed. While some of us are practising social distancing norms and practising work from home options hoping for better tomorrow, there is a possibility that some children may become victims of child labour owing to the preventive measures of lockdown.

The experts working for the cause of child labour elimination believe that one impact of the virus-induced restriction would increase the incidence of child labour.

“Migrant labour of Bihar and Jharkhand after their return from different cities due to the pandemic iterated that they would not return back and instead send their children as the virus attacks are prone to aged people. With the schools closed owing to the lockdown the vulnerability of millions to child labour is another issue that merits serious attention”, said Prabhat Kumar, National Thematic Manager- Child Protection with Save the Children.

Kumar further stressed that the reason for the vulnerability of rise in child labour is due to the financial setbacks and inadequate government support owing to which the migrant labours have no option rather than children for their survival.

“The pandemic has seen a rapid unemployment and subsequent economic shock in number of jobs. Hence to overcome these situations and to meet the financial crunch by the companies they may get into involving child as labour (dying and knitting etc.) they may try to compensate this by employing the children as labourers”, added Kumar

The United Nations General Assembly has unanimously adopted the resolution declaring 2021 as the International Year for Child Labor Elimination. This is an initiative to encourage nations to work towards the SDG Target 8.7. In target 8.7, leaders committed to “take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”. Considering the current risk of more children pushed into forced employment, we need to protect our children, now more than ever.

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