TACOMA, Washington — In the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most affected countries in the world is India. In September, India had the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world with approximately 4.1 million cases. Many cases continue to rise in the country but the pandemic has only worsened an already present problem. Child labor is a prevalent issue in India, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, this humanitarian issue has exacerbated. Authorities have rescued about 1,200 children from factory and farm labor in the last six months, and this number alone shows the significant spike of child labor in India amid the pandemic.
Several additional problems have exacerbated the rising cases of child labor in India, the two most evident being the closure of schools and the widespread poverty faced by many families due to the pandemic.
Closure of Schools
Schools worldwide have been affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Many schools across the world have been forced to shut down, with many opting to shift their learning to online platforms. However, not everyone can afford to do this nor have the resources to do so. Such is the case for Indian schools.
Schools in India have been closed since a lockdown was instituted in March due to the pandemic. As a result, many children are now taking up small jobs or whatever they can find to provide for their families, who are struggling with food and financial insecurity.
Most of these children are working for incredibly small wages, which to them and their families is still better than nothing at all. Being out of school has also made children more susceptible to influence from traffickers. Schools are not only important for learning, they also offer teachers and other educational personnel to pay attention to children more closely, which has not been able to happen since the lockdown.
The closure of schools has not only impacted the lives of children across India, it has also become a precursor to the rise of child labor.
Increase in Poverty
India has long struggled with poverty, but the novel coronavirus pandemic has only made the problem worse for many communities. Many businesses in India have suffered tremendously and unemployment rates have increased following the lockdown was implemented.
As a result, many children start to take up jobs, potentially dangerous and damaging ones, to provide for their families. Children have also been actively recruited by suffering factories to make up for accumulated losses. These children are easily influenced by older adults, especially at a time when their living situations are poor.
Efforts Made to Curb Child Labor in India
Many groups and humanitarian organizations are actively working to stop child labor in India, even during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
One such group is UNICEF. Not only has the international organization supported many programs to fight child labor, but it is also working with India’s government to create direct policy changes. This is an effective tactic as working with governments is one of the best ways to create lasting change through official laws and precedents that can be concretely established, especially in the case of child labor.
Contributors, such as activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, have also made efforts to condemn child labor, calling upon countries to redirect more financial resources toward helping stop child labor.
The progress made to undo the effects of child labor have even predated the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2019 report on child labor in India saw a “moderate advancement” in the fight to end the humanitarian issue, demonstrating that progress was made before COVID-19. It may seem counterintuitive to take a look at the efforts made before the pandemic; however, these statistics provide a good baseline and indication of how things can be carried out in the future.
Such programs are the National Child Labor Project Scheme, which provides children with both vocational training and education after withdrawing them from potentially dangerous jobs. This program shows significant results as it not only helps children escape laborious work but it also provides them with ongoing education and support. These resources are incredibly beneficial for their future when they are old enough to work.
Child labor amid the COVID-19 pandemic has become a concerning and transparent issue in India. However, government efforts, humanitarian organizations, activists and child labor prevention programs are aiding children during this unprecedented time. With continued effort and increased financial support to families with dependent children, India can prevent children from taking up unsafe jobs and curb the increasing rate of child labor.