Pandemic, lockdowns hurdles in tracking child labour data, world data sees steep increase

The UN has declared 2021 the ‘International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour’

Credit : Indie Journal

While worldwide data points towards a risk of increase in child labour due to the coronavirus pandemic, the on and off lockdowns and lack of reporting have made it difficult to monitor the cases of child labour in India over the last 15 months or so. While the Union Home Ministry and the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) have issued advisories for the protection of children vulnerable to labour and trafficking, the monitoring will only be possible after unlock, the Commission states.

Two days ago, a report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Unicef revealed that one in 10 children in the world were victims of child labour. The report stated that the number of children subjected to labour had increased to 160 million from 152 million in 2016. The report also put 9 million more children at risk of being pushed into child labour due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have not been able to conduct a survey to determine whether child labour in India has increased or not due to the pandemic. Moreover, with establishments like shops, hotels and small industries closed due to lockdown, it would be rather difficult to say if more children have been subjected to labour yet. But as things begin to move towards unlock, we are anticipating a rise in the instances of child labour due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic,” NCPCR chairperson Priyank Kanoongo.


Invisibalisation of child labour

However, while the places that have been known to employ children traditionally have remained closed for a large part of the year, child right activists have also noted a shift in the workplaces that could lead to invisibalisation of child labour. “Recently, we discovered a small home-based factory that subjected children to labour to make masks in Ulhasnagar, Thane. The owner was later arrested. The hotels, shops or factories might be shut, but that does not mean children are not being made to work. The places of exploitation have just shifted to homes, slums or small home-based factories,” Alicia Tauro, Maharashtra Convener for Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL) shared.


“With children at home and parents at work, a lot of young girls are made to take charge of their households."


Moreover, she also said that with no schools and online classes, most children, especially girls are being subjected to a lot of domestic work as well. “With children at home and parents at work, a lot of young girls are made to take charge of their households. They have to take care of their younger siblings, cook, clean and so on. They sometimes don’t even get time to attend online classes or play. Domestic work of this kind does not even come in the legal purview of child labour, but as child activists, we still identify it as labour,” Tauro said.

The reporting of child labour has also been affected due to the pandemic. “Currently, the reporting of child labour is very low. The numbers with the labour departments do not match the prevailing conditions. However, it’s necessary to assume that a large number of children are at a high risk of being subjected to labour due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. In fact, several have already been pushed into it over the past one year,” Sushant Sonone of Action of the Rights of the Child (ARC) said.


Efforts to identify and save children

Kanoongo said that while a survey of children being pushed into labour is not feasible at the moment, the government is creating a roadmap anticipating an increase in child labour in the coming time. “We are preparing a vulnerability map that will help us monitor children who could be pushed into labour or trafficking after the lockdown restrictions are lifted. Vulnerable children will be identified and added to the various welfare schemes of the government,” he added.


"We have identified 6,832 children including 3,450 boys and 3,382 girls, living in street situation in Pune, Mumbai and Nashik."


NGOs and organisations working with street children are also trying to identify vulnerable children. In Maharashtra, Save the Children has begun its work by identifying vulnerable street children, "We have identified 6,832 children including 3,450 boys and 3,382 girls, living in street situation in Pune, Mumbai and Nashik. Out of these, 6,218 children have not registered in any identity documents, such as birth registration certificate, Aadhaar Card, etc. This not only makes them invisible but also makes them more vulnerable for many child protection issues and Child Labour is one of the most prominent snare for them. In the present pandemic context, the child begging issue (which is also a worse form of child labour) has also increased in the cities," a press release by Save the Children said.

The UN has declared 2021 the ‘International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour’, stating that urgent action is needed to meet a goal of ending the practice by 2025. However, the pandemic coupled with job losses, lack of access to schools and the financial upheaval have begun to reverse the progress made in the journey towards the elimination of child labour world over.

"The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk. We are at a pivotal moment and much depends on how we respond. This is a time for renewed commitment and energy, to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labour," ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in a press release.