World Day Against Child Labour: CRY, activists discuss COVID-19 impact on child labour, agree on revisiting laws

Child Rights and You (CRY) brings together experts in a webinar, strategise way forward in strengthening child labour legislations amidst COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a huge void in jobs for the labourers as well as shut down educational institutions. More than students in urban areas, children from the rural areas, who depend on the offline blackboard for their basic learning and are devoid of internet facilities, are facing the brunt.

Sixty-two percent of child labourers in the age group of 5-14 years in India are employed in agriculture, forestry, and fishing, closely followed by industries and services. Children get entangled in worst forms of child labour including forced labour, bonded labour, children being used, procured, or offered for prostitution, pornography, and trafficking of drugs.

As a run up to today (June 12) being World Day Against Child Labour, Child Rights and You (CRY) organised a webinar titled COVID-19 and Child Labour in India: Challenges and Way Forward’ with an expert panel chaired by Priyank Kanoongo, Chairperson, NCPCR (National Commission for Protection of Child Rights), featuring three other experts – Rahul Sapkal, Protiva Kundu and Ashok Kumar – with Ms Puja Marwaha, CEO of CRY, as the moderator.

Representational image (via Deccan Herald)

The discussion was initiated by NCPCR chairperson, Priyank Kanoongo, who highlighted the need to execute the existing laws with utmost efficiency, and urged the NGOs, CSOs, and the citizens of the country to open their eyes to such illegalities.

“We need to ensure that we are using the existing laws, and not sitting and feeling helpless. Number of FIRs filed so far is extremely poor compared to the large number of child labour cases in the country,” explains Priyank. “Therefore, it is everyone’s responsibility to report and file FIRs on child labour.”

Moderator, Puja Marwaha believes that a change will come only when the citizens of India consciously believe that children below the age of 18 should not work, irrespective of their financial backgrounds.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 seems to be one major contributing factor to undo all efforts made in reducing and ending child labour,” she says. “Though child protection programming is vital to resolve the issue, CRY believes that the mechanism will be effective only when there is convergence amongst key departments of Women and Child Development, Education, Labour, Health and Home Affairs", she adds.

With the tanking economy, the demand for labour will increase in the days to come. The labour laws may get informalised and with the absence of adult labourers in urban areas, attributed to their recent migration, the demand for employing children, especially with schools being shut, may rise.

Ashok Kumar, Convener of National Advocacy at CACL (Campaign Against Child Labour) lists the many reasons as to why the employer market prefers child labourers.

“CACL believes that child labour should be prohibited in all sectors of employment, hazardous and non-hazardous,” he says. “CACL has identified the main factors behind child labour – improper education, poverty, unemployment, under-employment, gender and caste-based discrimination, and of course, cheap labour.”

Rahul Sapkal, Assistant Professor, Centre for Labour Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), explained how the weakening of the laws can lead to a bigger crisis that can adversely impact the lives of underprivileged children.

“The child labour legislation needs to be revised as many aspects of climate change and hazardous industries are not yet incorporated. This revision must include revisiting the definition of what constitutes hazardous industries, keeping the developing capacities of children in mind,” says Rahul.

Basic education should not take a backseat in the lives of children. While provisions of remote learning have been made through online classes, poor children do not have access to this medium. This can shoot up the rate of dropouts.

Focussing on the need to bring this number down, Protiva Kundu, Additional Coordinator - Research, Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) spoke about better opportunities for learning for poor children. “COVID-19 crisis will definitely lead to surge in child labour. Government should expand the coverage of NCLP scheme in all districts which is currently operating in 323 districts and spend on survey of identifying child labour. Also, it is high time to address dropouts in schools and government should expand RTE Act up to Class 12.”

Puja Marwaha concludes, “We need to ensure that places of safety for these children are created again, education is reignited, taking into consideration the reality that e-learning does not reach the children that we serve. Otherwise, they will fall out and fall into the traps of labour".

Edited by Javed Gaihlot


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