COVID-19: Thousands of children pushed into forced labour in India
COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the crisis of child labour in India, with several underprivileged families forced to push their children into menial jobs to meet ends. India has the largest child population in the world with 472 million children living across all parts of the nation.
With the COVID-19 outbreak starting to spread across India in March, the Union Government imposed a nationwide lockdown in a bid to contain the virus, resulting in the closure of millions of businesses and schools. As economic activities were halted for months, struggles for survival amid pandemic crisis increased for lower-income and poor population of the country.
Children worst affected by Coronavirus-induced lockdown are those of casual labourers and daily wage earners who lost their livelihood and earnings due to lockdown restrictions. With schools shut, many parents sent away their children to work and earn to meet ends.
It is important to note that the problem of child labour has been prevalent in India even before the health crisis struck the country. However, due to lack of income sources and halted education, more kids were driven into forced labour at a young age amid COVID-19. Many of these children under the age of 18 are working illegally in hazardous conditions of garment factories, tobacco production, mining and construction industries.
With more than 80% of people working in the informal sector in the Indian economy, pandemic pushed millions of workers at the risk of falling deeper into poverty. A recent AFP report states that more than 1 crore children between the age of 5 and 14 in India are working in farms and factories among other small jobs including shining shoes at railway platform and cleaning tables at a roadside restaurant.
India Nobel peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi has also expressed fear that the Coronavirus pandemic will push more children into labour reversing decades of hard-won progress to protect children from such crises. Speaking to Reuters recently, Satyarthi said that his biggest threat is that millions of children may fall back into child labour, trafficking, and child marriage due to the repercussions of the pandemic.
In recent weeks, Delhi-based child rights organization BachpanBachaoAndolan (BBA), founded by Kailash Satyarthi, has conducted several raids with the police across the national capital to rescue hundreds of children forced into labour.
At the same time, school closures, widened the digital divide in the education. With classes moving online, many students were not able to participate in the learning process due to lack of access to technology. Evidently, risk of school drop has significantly increased due to the crisis.
Kailash Satyarthi and many other Nobel laureates have called on world governments and international institution to provide funds and step up efforts to protect children across the globe from the repercussion of the pandemic.