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Child Labor: Covid-19 and earlier statistics

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Fahid Fayaz Darangay
Child labor is work carried out by children that harms them or exploits them physically, mentally, morally, or by blocking their access to education. There is no universally accepted definition of child labor.
Varying definitions of the term are used by international organizations, non-governmental organizations, trade unions and other interest groups. There are also varying opinions about who exactly counts as a child. While international conventions define children as people aged 18 and under, individual governments – and indeed, different cultures – may define “children” according to different ages or other criteria.
Therefore, to avoid confusion, when writing or speaking about “child labour”, it is best to clarify exactly what is meant. According to the ILO (International Labour Organization), child labour is work carried out by children under the age of 18 that in any way exploits them, causes them mental, physical or social harm, or places them in moral danger. It is work that interferes that blocks their access to education and “deprives them of their childhood, their potential and their dignity”.
India’s Census 2001 office, defines child labor as participation of a child less than 17 years of age in any economically productive activity with or without compensation, wages or profit. It is also considered that child labor is when children in the ages of 5 to 14 are made to do work that hampers their physical and mental development. The reason being that it not only deprives them of their childhood but their future too, as without proper education and skills training, they lose out on the opportunity as grownups.
The law in India divides child labor into two categories, one is children below the age of 14, and the other is adolescents, children who fall in the age group 14 to 18. And according to the age group they fall in, they are allowed to do the work that has been identified by law as suitable for them.
Children under the age of 14 are allowed to work in a family business or as a child artist in movies, TV shows, etc., but not in circuses or on the streets. But even in this case, a child below the age of 14 and adolescents can work only after school hours and during vacations.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s “World Report on Child Labour (2015)” report, there are 168 million children worldwide still trapped in child labor. While there has been significant progress against child labor—especially during the 12-year period beginning in 2000, when the percentage of children in child labor fell from 16 per cent in 2000 to less than 11 percent in 2012—prevalence of child labor is still very high in many countries in the Sub-Saharan African region where progress has also been the slowest.
In India, the law on child labor does include punishment if underage children are employed, however, it does not completely disallow their employment. Data from a 2011 Census shows that the total child population in India in the age group 5 to 14 years is 259.6 million, and that 10.1 million or 3.9 per cent of the total child population are working. There is also a good number of children who are being trafficked and put into bonded labor across the nation.
The distribution is shown by the following graph
The 2011 census counted 250103 child labourers in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. If the study on “JK’s army of orphans engaged in menial jobs” is to be taken authentic then 43% of the child population of 26,53,422 i.e., 11,40,971 children are working in J&K which is far away from census figure of 1,75,630. The nowhere children in J&K according to latter study are 60,151 which widely varies from census inferences.
Impact of Covid-19
One of the most jarring effects of Covid-19 is the loss of jobs across the world. In India, Covid-19 is said to have left 120 million without employment as of May 2020. Many of these job cuts have happened to the more marginalized communities without adequate social security nets, like migrant laborers.
According to the World Bank, in India, 12 million people have a chance of slipping below the poverty line due to pandemic-related job losses. Poverty is correlated to child labor; previous research has indicated that one percentage point increase in poverty leads to about 0.7 percent percentage point increase in child labor. Studies have also concluded that there is a general trend of an increase in child labor and a decrease in children going to schools during prolonged periods of crisis.
Furthermore, previous financial vulnerability push parents to send their children to work, as seen in India, and this pattern exists even in other developing countries like Guatemala and Tanzania. The sharp increase in child labor during the pandemic, especially in northern India is also evident from the increase in the number of calls to help lines.
Moreover, when schools eventually resume, many may not have enough money to send their children back. As a result of this, and the loss of jobs of their parents, children may have to continue working for the family’s survival. The NGO Child Rights and You (CRY) has pointed out that many children may even prefer to work and earn money to support their families through this crisis rather than go to school. During the lockdown government had asked states to make sure that meals were delivered to students. Many states like Kerala and West Bengal opted to distribute raw materials and dry rations through the Anganwadi workers. However, there are reports of some states not serving midday meals to children. A survey conducted by Save the Children in June 2020 in 15 states in India, revealed that out of the sample of 7,235 families, two-fifths of the families did not receive midday meals-related compensation for their children. The failure of some of the states to adequately distribute meals has driven many children to be work as rag pickers during the lockdown to earn money to eat food.
Save the Children foundation highlights the following points to be followed to decrease the child labor:
Initiatives Taken by the Government to Prevent Child Labor
In 1979, the Central Government formed the first statutory committee to analyse and research on the issue of child labour in India – the Gurupadswamy Committe. The committee was also tasked with making certain recommendations to curb child labour. The Committee studied the problem in great detail and made some truly insightful recommendations. One of their major observations was that the problem of child labour is inextricably linked to poverty.
elping poor to come out from the shackles of poverty was important to curtail the level of child labour. The Committee stated that till the time poverty continues, it would be not be possible to fully eliminate child labour and therefore efforts to abolish it through legal means will not yield the desired results. The Committee felt that in these circumstances, the only alternative left was to ban child labour in hazardous areas and to regulate and improve the conditions of work in other areas.
Taking into the account the findings and recommendations of the Gurupadswamy Committee, the Union Government enacted the Child Labour (Prohibition and & Regulation) Act in 1986. The Act prohibited children from being employed in specified hazardous occupations and at the same time regulated their working condition in other non-hazardous occupations and processes. The Act had a ‘Schedule’ which would enlist the hazardous occupations and processes. This Schedule was progressively expanded during the next many years on the basis of the recommendations of the Child Labour Technical Advisory Committee constituted under the Act.
In May of last year (2015), a major amendment was made to this Act which stipulated that children between 5-14 years are not to be employed in any occupation (except in the entertainment industry). But much to the chagrin of child rights activists, who sought a blanket ban on child labour, the amendment also mandated that children may be allowed to work in non-hazardous family enterprises.
Steps Taken by Non Government Organizations and Activists:
Numerous child rights activists and NGOs have been at the forefront of tackling the problem of child labor in India. Spreading awareness is the key to end child labor. Parents and the communities should be made to realize that a child belongs to school and not to fields and factories. Working in the remotest corners of the country, NGOs like Save the Children run programmes at the ground-level to eradicate child labor. Some prominent initiatives include:
1. Educating the communities about the ills attached to child labor and discouraging them from sending their children to work
2. Increasing enrolment rates and improving education quality so that more children reach school and stay there.
3. Mapping of child laborers, vulnerable children and out-of-school children and facilitating their movement to schools
4. Setting up of bridge schools for child laborers and grooming them to take the leap to formal schooling
5. Rehabilitation and counseling of former child laborers and sending them to school.
(The author is currently pursuing Masters in Financial Economics from Madras School of Economics, Chennai)


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