Disturbing increase in child labour during Covid

There has been a steep increase in child labour in the country during the Covid pandemic period that shows severe economic distress among large sections of the population.

The figures of the government itself are telling that apart from the mental, physical health of the children, this virus has forced them to work at a young age. Children have started doing not only domestic but also dangerous work.

According to data from the National Child Labor Project (NCLP) presented in Parliament recently, there has been an increase of 6.18 percent in the number of child laborers between 2019-20 and 2020-21. In 2019-20  54,894 child laborers were rescued from work and this number increased to 58,289 in 2020-21. In 2018-19, this number was 50,284.

According to organizations and people working on child labor these are the numbers those rescued that have been recorded in the government records but the real number of children still working is much higher. More than 3.9 percent out of the 25.6 crore children in the age group of 5-14 years in the country are involved in some form of labor.

Child labor at its peak in Rajasthan

During the Covid period there has been a significant increase in child labor in the state of Rajasthan as well.

While no government survey has been done in this regard so far the 2021 ‘ Status of Child Labor and Legal Entitlements of Workers in Major Sectors in Rajasthan ‘ report by  Save the Children and Work’s No Children’s Business (WNCB) is extremely disturbing. Children in the state are engaged in working in brick-kilns, sandstone and granite units, farming and production of carpets, gems and jewelry cutting and bangle making. The maximum number of children are working in brick kilns in Bikaner , Ganganagar , Ajmer , Jaipur , Bharatpur and Bhilwara districts of Rajasthan.

COVID Response Watch LogoAccording to the report, during the epidemic, these laborers come from families that have been immersed in debt. Due to their deteriorating economic condition, the children were forced to go to work. The economic distress is also due to the fact that the owners of the factories, which were closed during the lockdown, have not paid the dues of the workers. According to the 2011 census, Rajasthan has about 8.4% of the country’s child laborers,  numbering about 2.52 lakh , which ranks third in the country.

Thousands of children are also working in sand stone and granite mines and processing units in the state. There is some kind of mining in all the districts of Rajasthan. Of these, sandstone is extracted in 19 districts. According to an estimate, there are about 2.5 million workers in the mining industry of Rajasthan and 24% of these are children. Their share of work has increased during the Covid pandemic. Rana Sengupta, managing trustee of the Mine Labor Protection Campaign, says, “ There were a large number of child laborers in the mines even before Covid and this number has increased now. The government should conduct some research or survey in this regard.”

In Bikaner, Ganganagar, Ajmer, Jaipur, Bharatpur, Bhilwara, Dholpur, Karauli, Kota, Jodhpur, Sawai-Madhopur, Bundi, Chittorgarh, Jhalawar, Nagaur and Jaisalmer districts, child labor is used for extracting sandstone.

Apart from brick-kilns and mining, children are also involved in agricultural work. For example in Alwar, Baran and Banswara districts the children of people employed for grazing the cattle of big pastoralists are often involved in the work. The owners neither give any wages to these children nor are they given any other facility of any kind. Apart from this, children are employed in many types of farming related work by their families themselves.

The number of children working in carpet making, gem cutting, handicraft and paper cutting sectors has also increased in the Covid period. In these factories children work in very small and cramped spaces. Children’s fingers get damaged due to working in one place continuously. Children get affected by respiratory and vision problems. In the gem Industry also, children are made to work for 8-10 hours and 30-50 rupees per month are given in the name of wages. Jaipur city is the hub for this work. This type of work is maximum in areas like Adarsh ​​Nagar, Ghatgate, Ramganj, Chandpol, Gangapol of the city.

The severity of child labor in Rajasthan is reflected in the number of children rescued by the police. The police have freed 1625 working children in 2018 , 2420 in 2019 and 1817 in 2020 . In this way, 5862 child laborers have been rescued from Rajasthan in three years . In Jaipur alone, from 2019 to January 2021 , 470 children have been rescued by the police. The age of the rescued children was between 10 and 17 years. 90 percent of these children were from different districts of Bihar and most of them belong to the backward castes.

“ In the era of Covid, children have started working in large numbers not only in cities but also in rural areas. Because the means of employment in the villages have reduced and thousands of families still do not want to migrate to the cities due to Covid. That is why the family members do not hesitate to get their children to work to run the house” says  Varun Sharma, program director, Association for Rural Advancement through Voluntary Action and Local Involvement (Aravali).

This article has been supported by the Work: No Child’s Business (WNCB)

Madhav Sharma is a journalist based in Jaipur, Rajasthan

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