India is home to 10.1 million child labourers, aged 5-14 years (census 2011). The state governments need to address this issue immediately, if they are committed to eliminating all forms of child labour by 2025 under the sustainable development goals (SDG).

Aftermath of Covid19 and employment situation in India

Around 90% of India’s workforce is in the informal sector. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) weekly tracker survey, reports the Covid19 crisis has already pushed the urban unemployment rate to 30.9% (as on April 5, which was 8.21% on March 15). Estimates show that about 400 million informal workers in India may not get back their livelihoods for a long while.

Without any credit, savings or adequate governmental support, these households are being left with no other option than to make their children join the workforce to survive.

Closure of schools has potential to increase child labour

In India due to the pandemic, schools have been closed nationwide. UNESCO estimates that around 32 crore learners are affected in India, of which 15.8 crore are female and 16.2 crore are male. UNESCO recommends that countries adopt a variety of hi-tech, low-tech and no tech solutions to assure the continuity of learning during this period. Given the situation in India, the vast majority of students have no internet access, smartphones or a computer. Therefore, a large number of children studying in government schools remain cut off from online education. This will disproportionately affect children who already experience barriers in accessing education, like children in remote locations, children of migrant workers, or those whose families have lost income as a result of job loss or precarious employment.

Thus, for many children, the COVID-19 crisis will mean limited or no education, or falling further behind their peers. This will induce a large number of children to discontinue their study even after “normalcy” is restored. There is a high probability of many of these out of school children becoming child labour.

Stories from the field

The first ones to be affectedin any crisis situation are alwaysthe poor. We have found many poor children who have already started working to support their families financially.

Lakshmi is a 12 years old girl from Nituwalli AK Colony, Devanagere, Karnataka.She dropped out of school after the 6thstandard and started working as a housemaid during nationwide lockdown,to share her family’s financial burden. Lakshmi’s father works as a manual scavenger, her two older brothers are also school drop outs. Her mother is weak, ill and cannot go out to work. Lakshmi earns Rs 1000/- a month by washing clothes and utensils and cleaning the house. Due to the lock down, poor people are the worst affected and unemployed. They do not have money for their daily food, and people with health issues are unable to get treatment.

Muthurajis a 12 year old boy, living in Gandhinagara, Devanagere, Karnataka. He is from a poor sweeper family. His father is a manual scavenger and his mother is a sweeper. Muthuraj started working as a labourer in construction to support the family after the covid19 nationwide lockdown. His father is a chronic alcoholic and does not care for the family. Muthurajearns Rs. 250 per day. The family is also in debt that they alreadycannot repay. They are now at risk of going deeper in debt with additional loans taken at an even higher interest rate.