It is a global phenomenon and exists in different forms and intensities in almost every part of the globe. Yet, half the world’s child labourers (72.1 million) are in Africa; 62.1 million are in Asia and the Pacific.
However, due to Covid 19, the number of child labours have increased as discussed below.
The term “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that:
The factors that contribute to child labour are:
Over the last two decades, the number of children working as child labourers came down by a 100 million. But the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has dealt a heavy blow on human lives and endangered the economic activities of the poor and disadvantage people.
The above stated factors are likely to be exacerbated due to COVID 19.
According to ILO and UNICEF:
According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic will cause more than a quarter of billion people suffering from acute hunger.
The pandemic has hit the mental, physical and nutritional health of children. Schools have been shut for the longest time due to the crisis, denying children access to healthy school meals. According to UNICEF, more than 1.5 billion children missed out their schooling due to COVID-19 restrictions. This has compelled children to work to support their families.
Children who should be in school are working in Dickensian conditions across Rajasthan, a majority in bangle factories, and others in roadside dhabas, tyre shops and saree printing workshops, trying to support families that have either lost work during the Covid-19 pandemic or seen deaths in the family. Their necks and shoulders hunched for long periods of time, their eyes squinting against the sunlight, and their bodies wracked by malnutrition, they are the invisible victims of Covid.
Each bangle fetches between Rs 10 and Rs 50 in markets across Rajasthan. The children work 16-18 hours a day, making a mere Rs 50, well below the minimum wage of Rs 252 per day in Rajasthan.
There has been a significant increase in the proportion of working children from 28.2% to 79.6% out of the 818 children who were surveyed, mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic and closure of schools, reveals a study conducted by Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL). Children from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes and those from lower economic background had to work to financially support their families during the pandemic.
The survey found that children were working in bakery shops, book stalls, two wheeler service workshops, newspaper distribution, ration shops, vegetable shops and as domestic helpers.
The Amendment inter alia covers the complete prohibition on employment or work of children below 14 years of age in all occupations and processes; linking the age of the prohibition of employment with the age for free and compulsory education under Right to Education Act, 2009; prohibition on employment of adolescents (14 to 18 years of age) in hazardous occupations or processes and making stricter punishment for the employers contravening the provisions of the Act.
Further After strengthening the legislative framework through amendment in Child Labour Act, Government has framed the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Amendment Rules, 2017 which inter alia specifies the duties and responsibilities of State Governments and District Authorities to ensure effective enforcement of the provisions of the Act. Government has also devised a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) as a ready reckoner for trainers, practitioners and enforcing and monitoring agencies and the same has been forwarded to all States/UTs.
The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory. The law also placed rules on who, when and how long can pre- adults aged 15–18 years be employed in any factory.
The Act prohibits the employment of children below 18 years of age in a mine.
This law made it a crime, punishable with a prison term, for anyone to procure or employ a child in any hazardous employment or in bondage.
The law mandates free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14 years.
This Policy seeks to adopt a gradual & sequential approach with a focus on rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations. It envisioned strict enforcement of Indian laws on child labour combined with development programs to address the root causes of child labour such as poverty
However most of the legislation passed lacks teeth to the effect that nothing can be effectively enforced or implemented. The machinery to tackle this problem effectively at the grass root level is lacking. Hence nothing much has been achieved.
Further the Right to Education Act 2009 have paved the way for ratification of ILO’s two core conventions:
1. Convention No 138 stipulates that the minimum age at which children can start work should not be below the age of compulsory schooling and in any case not less than 15 years; with a possible exception for developing countries. ‘
2. Convention No. 182 prohibits hazardous work which is likely to jeopardize children’s physical, mental or moral health. It aims at immediate elimination of the worst forms of child labour for children below 18 years.
The ratification of the core conventions on child labour gives rise to a range of priorities such as strengthening policy and legislative enforcement, and building the capacities of government, workers’ and employers’ organisations as well as other partners at national, State and community levels.
Also to ensure effective enforcement of the provisions of the Child Labour Act and smooth implementation of the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) Scheme a separate online portal PENCIL (Platform for Effective Enforcement for No Child Labour) has been developed. The Portal connects Central Government to State Government(s), District(s) and all District Project Societies. Further the Ministry has instructed all the concerned States where NCLP Scheme is sanctioned, to form State Resource Centre (SRC) under the chairmanship of State Labour Secretary, which would monitor the enforcement of Child Labour Act, coordinate for the rescue of children and adolescents, child tracking system and supervise all the functions through PENCIL portal. SRC would also prepare and implement awareness generation plan to curb the menace of child labour in the State.
The millions of children who will be victims of the COVID-19 pandemic need immediate attention from states and communities. The starting point should be the parents.
Both the Central and state governments are already implementing a number of decisive measures to redress the situation of people. These include free ration, food and shelter to vulnerable families; social benefits to informal workers, tax relief to low-income earners and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
These measures have responded to the emergency needs that COVID-19 has generated and also ease the life of children directly or indirectly to some extent. However, it is clear that more needs to be done to prevent children from lapsing into child labour.
The fight against child labour is not just the responsibility of one, it is the responsibility of all.
Verifying, please be patient.