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.
18 year old Abisha dreams of a clean environment where people could not only enjoy the beauty of her coastal village but would also understand the symbiotic relationship between nature and people. Growing up in a coastal village near KanyaKumari in Tamil Nadu, India Abisha’s interest and awareness in the environment started when she was a young girl in the 6th grade. tdh supported project HEAL was working in those areas and they started conversations with the children in Abisha’s school to help them understand the necessity of a clean, sustainable environment. The project workers took baby steps and started a small garden within the school premises and that’s where young Abisha first started falling in love with nature and the environment. The young girl would love to spend time in the garden and watch things grow.
As she grew older Abisha began to spend more time with the HEAL project workers and realized that there were so many problems that her village and the district around faced. One of the main ones was the gradual depletion of sand dunes. Since these were coastal villages – they were surrounded by sand dunes. These dunes not only kept the villages protected but also ensured that the salt water did not invade plantations and cropping lands. The sand dunes were also a natural sanctuary and provided a breeding ground for a variety of plants, turtles and other marine animals – thus maintaining the balance in nature. However with the gradual depletion of the sand dunes – not only was the marine eco system under threat but the villages itself could be under severe danger.
The youth group therefore started work to rebuild the sand dune. Through advocacy with the local government, awareness with the villages and the communities – they gradually got the support they needed to rebuild the dunes. However, the bigger challenge was to ensure that the dunes were protected. Abisha with her youth group members started a drive to educate the villagers and ensure that they did not take sand from these areas for any activities. They also made them more vigilant to ensure that these dunes remained protected from outsiders as well.
Gradually they were able to help people understand and continue to do so even today. There have been attitudinal changes in Abisha’s village in more ways than one. As a girl when she initially started work she faced a lot of opposition from her parents and the villagers. In those days – girls were not allowed to go out and roam around freely and it definitely wasn’t considered appropriate for them to get into work which would take them out of the house for long hours. However Abisha was determined and along with raising awareness about the environment – she managed to break through the barriers of gender discrimination. Once people realized the good work she was doing – they started changing their minds. “Today everyone tells their daughters to be like me!” says Abisha proudly.
This young woman has completed her college education and is now busy carving a career out for herself in the social activism field and dreams of an environmentally sustainable world.
“Together we can!” says young Papdi and her conviction is infectious. Hearing her talk about her struggles, the extreme poverty that her family faced, almost dropping out of school – it’s stunning to see so much positivity.
Hailing from the small village of Denuya in West Bengal, India – Papdi comes from a community where the struggle for survival used to be a daily fight. tdh supported Project Nishtha, has not only managed to bring in a sense of hope in these areas but has also shown them the path to a better life.
Papdi first came into contact with Nishta many years back when she was in Grade 7. Since then she has grown in her associations with the organization to engage, become more aware and finally becoming the leader of the Youth Federation. She directly supervises 50 youth group leaders who in turn each have their own groups to monitor.
Brought up in a community where agriculture is the backbone of most livelihood options – she says her inclination towards the environment was always very strong. However, it was the project workers or didis (elder sisters) as they are called who helped her understand the threats to the environment and the concept of ecological sustainability. It is armed with this knowledge that Papdi and her team of youth members conducted a surveillance of their village when they realized that irrigation facilities and hence agriculture was suffering. Their survey threw up some interesting findings where they realized that the central source of irrigation to their village was a man-made channel which allowed water to flow in from the river to the fields. However, the channel was narrowing down in places because of accumulation of garbage, silting and other practices along the shores. Therefore not only was the inflow of water supply becoming irregular but during the monsoons – the water would also not have the space to flow out and would end up flooding the land and the destroying the crops.
The youth group headed by Papdi – started the long process of completing re-structuring the channel. They knew the work would be extensive but as Papdi said – “We live off the land. How can we not protect it.” There were several hurdles to jump over. At one level the group had to convince the villagers what they needed to do and on the other hand they needed to convince the landowners who were mostly absentees that this work was much needed. After a prolonged period of conversations, meetings, going from one place to the other for the necessary investments and permissions – work finally started on the irrigation canal early this year.
“This canal will change the lives of the 5000 people in this village.” Says Papdi. “They will be able to grow crops to the full extent and not only will their food security be taken care of but they will also have enough yields to be able to save away for a rainy day.”
Papdi also understands that just getting the canal constructed is not the end of the road – and therefore she has also started a campaign to make people more aware about the maintenance of the canal.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has stopped work for now but Papdi is raring to go as soon as things ease out.
About Papdi: Lives with her parents and her grandmother. Her father runs a small shop and Papri herself supports her family through dance classes…..she wishes for a world where girls would get equal opportunities like boys and complete their education. Where they would make something of themselves.
In the State of Tamil Nadu, the Rural Organization for Social Education (ROSE), has been working with the most marginalized daily wage farm and agricultural labourers. The COVID 19 lockdown has further distressed their economic and social conditions.Since 24th March 2020, ROSE has been working with the district administration of Pudhukottai to ensure food security for migrant workers stranded in the district as well as to establish a market to help thousands of farmers sell their agricultural produce at a fair price. The ROSE team also obtainedthe necessary officialgovernment permissions to procure agricultural produce from the farmers directly and has been distributing it to community members in need of food.
The frequent interactions of ROSE team with the agricultural community in Pudhukottai brought to light the attitudinal change among the people towards children’s education. Though there have been no studies or reports conducted thus far, the informal interactions revealed that many of the families are hesitant to send their children back to school citing the present economic crisis and the possible loss of jobs in the industrial and IT sectors. During the relief distribution, the team met almost 200 children working as farm labour, either in their own small patch of land or for a minimum wage in their neighbour’s land. Now in Pudhukottai, children selling the vegetables on the village roads have become a common sight. These children earn Rs. 80 per day as farm labour, while they earn around Rs 150 per day by selling vegetables on the streets.Though many of the children claim that they are supporting their families as the schools are closed, parents are contemplating not letting their children continue their education instead letting them learn agricultural practices to till the land. In Pudhukottai District, very recently the dalit children have come out of the shackles of bonded labour but the present crisis situation seems to push them back by at least a decade.
When child labour is so rampant among even those children who are living with their families, the situation of orphan children or children from troubled families is sadly even more challenging. Venkatesh’s story is proof of this.
Venkatesh is waiting to write his 10th standard board examination. He is 15 years old and is residing at Sivapatti village of Pudhukottai District under the care of his grandmother. His parents were daily wage workers in a brick kiln. He lost both his parents two years ago. His father succumbed to tuberculosis and his mother died in a road accident. Since then, his sister and brother have been adopted and are being cared for by his mother’s older sister. Venkatesh chose to stay with his grandmother. With no landholdings, his grandmother worked as an agricultural labourer in the field.The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act’s (MGNREGA)that ensures 100 days work helped the two of them to meet their basic needs. With his grandmother’s support Venkatesh continued his studies and hoped to go to college. But now Venkatesh’s grandmother has no livelihood and limited opportunities, as marginalized farmers no longer hire labourers due to their inability to pay wages during the COVID 19 lockdown. There is also a lot of confusion with regard to the age limit for work under MGNREGA and Venkatesh’s grandmotherwho is almost 70,is unable to access any employment or scheme.During the lockdown Venkatesh has been hired by an earth mover company. He is operating machinery to excavate and dig the earth for agriculture and construction. He is paid Rs. 250 per day which is helping the family to survive during the COVID 19 crisis. Venkatesh is still not clear about going back to school when it reopens as he has no other means of supportinghimself and his grandmother.
Rural Literacy and Health Programme, (RLHP) terre des hommes Germany’s partner organisation has been working with slum communities and severely marginalized groups in the Mysore and Chamrajnagar districts of Karnataka. From the end of March 2020, the organization is activelysupporting relief and advocacy work to ensure the livelihood for migrant workers, daily wage workers and farmers. They are also collaborating with Childline in Mysore.Hence the RLHP team has also been attending to the calls of children in distress and addressing child rights issues working with the relevant government departments. During the lockdown, RLHP was able to address 18 cases of child labour in Mysore and 12 cases in Chamrajnagar. The teamalso prevented 46 cases of child marriage in Mysore and 15 in Chamrajnagar. RLHP has historically worked on child labour prevention projects that ensured education for children living on the streets and from migrant families. However, during the present economic and livelihood crisis, the team is meeting manyschool going children who have started working to support their families. Here are a few stories of these vulnerable children:
Tanish is 13 years old. Helives with four other members of his family inJyothinagar. His parents were daily wage workers who have so far managed to educate their three children in government schools. Tanish has just completed the 6thstandard. The Corona virus lockdown pushed his family into an acute economic crisis as both his parents have lost their livelihood. Their little savingswent early on in the lockdownon food for the children and taking care of their basic needs. Tanish’s parents have been trying to find some work.Additionally, they haveset up a small plastic household articles shop on the pavement. Tanishis the oldest child and is being made to take care of the shop, while his parents look for work outside. When the Childline team identified Tanish as a child worker his parents said that he is helping the family during the school holidays. The parents were counselled on the rights of children and the legislations that prevent children from working even during holidays. The family has also been given support to find jobs in the city and follow ups are done to ensure that all the three children continue their education once the school re-opens.
Nine year old Shoyebexcelled in school doing well in both academics and sports. His father is an auto driver and his mothera domestic worker. Both of them have lost their jobs during the lockdown. Though the family received food rations from the Government Public Distribution System they needed money for additional essentials and groceries. After a point of time the parents found it difficult to feed the three children. That is when Shoyeb’s parents decided to set up a mobile fruit shop on the pavement of Mysore city. Since schools were closed and Shoyeb was at home, he was made to manage the shop in the mornings while his parents tried to find other low paying jobs and manage the household chores. The Childline team foundShoyeb selling fruits on the street and asked his parents about his education. His parents have assured theteam that he will continue his education once school reopens, the RLHP team informed the parents that sending him to work even during the holidays is not acceptable as per the rights of the child. Further the team assured the parents that they could ask the RLHP if they found it difficult to send children to school in the coming months or required alternate sources of income.
As widely reported in the news, there has been an increase in child marriages during the lockdown. This is due to the severe economic crisis. Many vulnerable families are facing a bleak futurein the wake of COVID 19 crisis. Childline India, Karnataka is seeing a spike in the number of child marriage cases during the lockdown. RLHP child line unit received a call that Sonika residing in Otagalli village, aged 15 yearswho had just completed her 9th Standard was to be married off the next day. The RLHP team informed the concerned District Child Protection Unit, Special Juvenile Protection Unit and the Police Department about the impending child marriage. Along with the Government officials, the RLHP team visited the village in the morning where the marriage preparations were in progress. After verification of the school documents and other age proof of the girl, the groom and his parents were arrested. The girl’s parents tried to convince the local officials that their economic and social situation during the COVID 19 had forced them to organize this marriage. They also argued that as agricultural daily wage labourers with no income it has become challenging for them to take care of their children and hence getting their daughter married will reduce the family burden. In the police station the parents of the girl and the groom were counselled and sensitized about the law pertaining to the legal age of marriage.
The RLHP team sensitized the families about the legal as well as the health implications of child marriage and the right to education of children especially girls. The girl and the boy were also informed about the child marriage prevention act and counselled to not to give in to parental pressure. The families were released after getting a written statement that they would not get their girl child married before the age of 18. The local Panchayat and other key stakeholders were also informed and asked to take up frequent follow up visits to ensure that there is no child marriage in their village.
Meet 29-year-old Monu from Ganj Basoda.Brought up by his grandmother, Monu has struggled with a tragic past when he lost both his parents at a young age. It was through Prasoon—tdh partner that Monu got in touch with the youth network. At the time Monu had quit his studies due to austerity at home and started working as a worker at a stone quarry. With help from the youth network, he was able to complete his education and now even coaches children from the village free of cost.
Monu’s village UrdoniPatharin Vidisha District is primarily a stone area where most people work as workers in the quarry. The area is completely arid with no sight of greenery. Monu, along with the youth from the network,planted saplings of 140 variants and 116 trees. In no time did they convert the village area from a region of stones and concrete to a green pasture. Soon their initiatives spread out to achieve greater results.
Due to the extreme dry weather all the wells in Monu’s village had dried up. The community did not pay attention to it initially, however, Monu and all the other youth decided to conserve rain water in the wells. They collectively cleaned the wells and harvested rain water in the wells. 150 families in the village were able to use well water, especially during the Covid lockdown where sourcing water for drinking also had become difficult.
Monu and the youth network worked extensively to provide families in the village with kitchen gardens using organic manure. Approximately, 80 families benefitted from their kitchen gardens and 150 families from water from the well. In what can be called as an incredible achievement, the entire village used their kitchen gardens to source vegetables and fresh organic produce during the Covid lockdown.
Monu’s endeavours tell us that with the right will, pastures can grow in stones.
Meet 17-year-old award-winning environment champion, Pallavi Mahobe. Pallavi lives in an urban slum in Ishwar Nagar, located in the capital city of the western state of Madhya Pradesh. Pallavi is an example of how children living in urban slums interact with their environment. Urban slums in India are shanties that have erupted in the vicinity of a city. Set up as erratic spaces, urban slums are categorised by the unsanitary living conditions such as burning heaps of dump in slum settlements, and so on.
Meera Nagar, Ishwar Nagar is one of the largest slums in Bhopal that incidentally is also the largest garbage dumping ground. The dumping ground is used to burn heaps of garbage collected across 5 zones in the city. On many occasions, the fire from the garbage burning would spread to the adjacent slum huts and shanties. The dumping ground would also emanate a stinky stench as pits for mosquito breeding.
Pallavi took up the mantle to stop this hazardous practise from polluting the environment. She, along with the youth members of NIWCYD—a tdh partner, decided to raise their voice against it. And raise their voice they did! They wrote letters to the Municipality Commissioner, a pursuit taken up by the women committees of the area as well. They used every medium to communicate their message—twitter, Facebook, letters, personal visits. Resultantly, the Municipal Corporation installed a Waste Recycle Plant in place of the dumping ground. This initiative soon gathered great inspiration and momentum and expanded into an initiative to separate dry waste from wet waste. The children spread awareness in their and neighbouring communities on the importance of waste segregation. Now, 350 families are consciously separating dry waste from wet waste.
Pallavi and her group didn’t stop there, they brought up the issue of waste segregation at a round table discussion organised by the Municipal Corporation Office in Bhopal. The Municipal Corporation vehicle/truck, responsible for collecting garbage from houses indicates its arrival through a song about garbage disposal and waste segregation. Even though the dry waste was being segregated from wet waste, bio-hazardous waste such as medical waste, sanitary waste, wasn’t getting disposed separately. Pallavi and her group used the platform to raise the importance of separating the bio-hazardous waste. Their initiatives bore results and a black box for dumping bio-hazardous was installed by the Corporation to the waste collection vehicle. The awareness song was also modified to include the importance of black box for dumping such waste. Pallavi and team pursued many such other initiatives, such as their campaign on the ban of single use plastic, “BachhokiVasundhar” (Children’s Earth), spread awareness among the employees of Crompton Greaves Company in Raisen to ban plastic bottles and plastic disposal on their campus. Now the entire office building is plastic free!Through their “Roko-Toko”(stop and taunt) campaign, they worked with the shopkeeper committees to install dustbins in the market and impose penalties on those defaulting.
Pallavi’s work has been awarded and recognised by the government of Madhya Pradesh. She is the recipient of Swachhta brand ambassador awarded by Municipal Corporation of Bhopal and with GouravAward by ParyavaranAndolan (The Environment Campaign).
SunainaDevi, a landless farmer,from Prithvipur in Kushinagar, Uttarpradeshlives with her husband and three children. She belongs to a Dalit Mushar family. Agriculture and livestock rearing are the main source of income in her village. Due to limited resources, she is forced to work in the fields of big farmers and her husband works as a construction labourer.Sunaina Devi says that her children are studying in government schools. Since schools are closed now, her children like many othersin the village are also spending time together in their homes. The sudden COVID 19 lockdown triggered a food and livelihood crisis among daily wage earners and marginal farmers. It pushed many families to workinthe agricultural fields of big farmers. Her children also started doing agricultural work like plucking vegetables and water melons from the field and loading and unloading them. Sunaina Devi felt that if the situation remains the same, they will not be able to send their children to the school even when they reopen. In the meantime, in the absence of employment many families have taken loans from the big farmers and moneylenders. The burden of debt will force children into agricultural child labour to assist their families. In Kushinagar, total 10247 Mushar families are living in 10 blocks of the district. Out of which children from 3000-4000 families will probably dropout and become agricultural child labourwith their families. Children from 700 Mushar families in 10 villages of SKVS project may continuewith these child labour activitieseven after the lockdown.
Sanjeep hails from the Kavre district in Nepal and has been associated with tdh supported project ARD for several years. He had been associated with the project since a younger age and the project workers recognizing his potential have always encouraged him to participate in project activities and gradually take on the role of a leader. Sanjeep is now the leader of the Youth Network and has been elected from amongst 80 youth across the area to the post. He works with the local government as well and has a deep understanding of ecological issues and challenges his area faces.
His village and the surrounding areas suffer from severe droughts and Sanjeep as the head of the Youth Federation decided to do something to address that. They also knew that the current solution to the drought problem was to dig and create bore wells which would deplete the groundwater and therefore have a negative impact on the environment. Their town was also growing at a steady pace and therefore the demand for water would keep increasing. Sanjeep therefore decided to create a system where they could harvest the rainwater in the surrounding hills and use that in times of drought. He started speaking to the local government and the Ward Chairman to allocate the necessary budgets. They also proposed a plan of creating plantations and vegetation around the rain water harvesting pools and ponds so that it serves the twin purpose of water conservation and creating greenery.
They also created awareness within the community on water conservation and also on beautifying the community by planting trees etc. He also helped the youth understand how this project would benefit them directly. Many of the youth are entrepreneurs who are into animal husbandry and horticulture and this would help as well.
The water conservation project was approved and launched in 2017 and was completed in 2018 and is now benefiting over 30,000 people and Sanjeep couldn’t be happier. The young man dreams of a life where the government would always implement eco friendly policies and people would believe in sustainable living.
20 year old Sunil from tdh supported project Sakhi has been associated with the project for 4 years but can safely say that his life has already changed. His village in Hampi is a tourist hotspot in the country and gets a fair amount of income generated from the tourism industry. However there are many issues that the area faces and food insecurity, waste disposal problems are a few of those.
When Sunil first started working with Project Sakhi he would attend a lot of trainings and workshops which helped him understand the problems and issues in the area. The trainings also gave the young boy a way to explore his interests and find a path into a possibly financial secure future. Sunil had a natural flair for photography and through the trainings provided by the project staff began to take an interest in it. In the 4th year of his association with the project Sunil was identified as one of the youth members with potential and was given a fellowship to focus on issues faced by the communities and the area and find solutions. Sunil realized that one of the biggest issues faced by the area was a huge free open space which was being used as a communal dumping ground. The garbage was not being segregated and just being dumped, sometimes some of the more harmful materials like plastic etc would also be burnt in the open giving rise to toxic fumes. Sunil used his expertise in photography and created an awareness campaign around these using descriptive photographs. He then worked with the project and the youth groups to start an interaction with the district headquarters and concerned officials and duty bearers to help them understand the awful situation and request for help.
He also started making the community more aware so that they would not dump their garbage in that space.
After months of campaigning he has finally managed to get more garbage disposal trucks assigned for this area so that the garbage is cleared more frequently and does not stagnate. The community has also actively started waste segregation and there is heightened awareness on not using common spaces as dumping grounds.
To supplement this initiative Sunil has also started kitchen garden activities in 15 villages. He believed that this would not only make the environment greener but would also solve the problems of food insecurity which is a serious concern for the area. His dream is to extend this activity to as many as 100 villages.
Young Anupama lives in the tribal belt of Assam where livelihood options are hard to come by. The community itself has many issues and faces high rates of youth unemployment and migration. Tdh supported Project SATRA has been working in these areas for a long time and when Anupama came in contact with the project workers – she was already familiar with the organization and the work they were doing. She first associated with the project directly during a beekeeping workshop that was arranged and soon decided to work more closely with them.
Through repeated sessions and interactions Anupama became more sensitized to the issues that her community was facing and identified over usage of plastic as one of the main environmental hazards. She realized that the excess of plastic usage not only caused a garbage hazard but it also sometimes clogged up drains, affected fields, and crops and could very soon become an uncontrollable threat to the environment.
Anupama has mobilized the youth group to actively take this on and has organized them allocating specific responsibilities to generate awareness, reduce plastic, encourage people to use organic and natural alternatives, and also focus on proper waste disposal.