COVID-19 reverses progress made to eliminate child labour: CRY

CRY believes that the government needs to make concerted efforts to improve systems related to children’s education and protection mechanisms and strengthen social security schemes to help families sustain themselves – now more than ever, particularly in the backdrop of the pandemic.


(Representational Image: Unsplash)

 

As the World Day Against Child Labour (WDACL) was observed worldwide on Saturday, Child Rights and You (CRY) stated that amid the pandemic, scores of children may have been pushed into child labour due to massive loss of livelihood, as there is a dire need of extra pairs of hands at many families.

While timely interventions by local grass roots level NGOs supported by CRY brought many children out of the manual work and put them back to school, the pandemic has increased chances of children slipping through the cracks and falling prey to the menace of child labour, CRY stated in a release.       

Going by the numbers from CRY-supported intervention areas across states, in 2020, close to 4000 cases of child labour were prevented or referred for rescue and support, CRY stated. These numbers suggest that even though our collective efforts are on the right track, there’s still a long way to go and fully address the vulnerabilities of children, it added.

Prolonged closure of schools and lack of resources like no smart phones and internet connections, uninterrupted supply of electricity, space to take up online classes etc. to access e-learning has only exacerbated the situation by pushing marginalised children further away from education, it added.  

For adolescent children above the age of 14 years and continuing education beyond the 8th standard the problem is much more grave, since the Right to Education (RTE) Act guarantees education only till a child reaches 14; and the Child and adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 (CALPRA) allows children within 15 to 18 years to be engaged in labour as long as it is outside the list of ‘hazardous occupations and processes’ – thus pushing children further away from the promise of universal education up to the age of 18 years, as enshrined in the National Education Policy (NEP), It added.

Although a decade of the RTE-era significantly improved the status of enrolment of children in schools, retention remained a major challenge, it further stated, adding vulnerable children who have been facing long-term detachment from school (due to the pandemic) and helping family by entering the workforce or at home will significantly aggravate the drop-out issue.

CRY pointed out that census 2011 data reveals that more than half (51 per cent) of total child labourers within the age of 5-14 years are not attending educational institutions. According to more recent figures from Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS 2017-18), close to 6 per cent of children in the age-group of 5 – 14 years were out of school, and a considerable number of them were engaged in work , it stated.  

The ILO global estimates report 2020 stressed that globally, more than 70 per cent child labour is in family and agriculture and in rural areas.

CRY raised concern that while the second wave of the pandemic may have ruined the hope of getting children back to school this academic year any soon, the forthcoming waves may snatch away two consecutive years of education, thereby causing irreversible damage to the future of children, especially the marginalised ones living under the shadows of multi-dimensional poverty. 

The report by ILO and UNICEF almost echoes the worry as it states that “The COVID-19 crisis threatens to further erode global progress against child labour unless urgent mitigation measures are taken. New analysis suggests a further 8.9 million children will be in child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of rising poverty driven by the pandemic.” The report further estimates that there are 26.3 millions of children within 5 – 17 years engaged in labour in Central and Southern Asia. The report also warns that without accelerated action, globally, close to 140 million children will be in child labour in 2025, and 125 million in 2030.

This year’s WDACL focuses on action taken for the ‘2021 International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour’ and will be celebrated with a ‘Week of Action’ (from 10- 17 June 2021), providing organisations and agencies extended time and opportunity to strengthen their efforts to address vulnerabilities of children and eliminate child labour.

CRY believes that the government needs to make concerted efforts to improve systems related to children’s education and protection mechanisms and strengthen social security schemes to help families sustain themselves – now more than ever, particularly in the backdrop of the pandemic.

“We need a robust child protection and social security system which has got seriously impacted due to COVID pushing children into labour. Stringent enforcement of the child labour law, the Integrated Child Protection Services Scheme is critical to safeguard children from the impact of the COVID-19, including the fall outs of the economic slowdown,” CRY stated.

Civil bodies can play in eliminating child labour, by reaching out to the last mile child and families and help government to deliver the social protection schemes to children and their families. CVOs and NGOs should also take part in forums and programmes wherein they can deliberate on the issue with other representatives and put forth their perspective in charting out a roadmap for elimination of child labour, it added.

First Published:June 12, 2021, 8:01 p.m.

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