In 1993, the Government of India has introduced a law to prohibit any individual below the age of 18 years to be engaged by a commercial or family business in any form of dangerous employment or labour to safeguard the mental, spiritual, moral or social development. This law tightened further in 2006, ensured that no child below the age of 14 years can be engaged in any form of labour for the benefit of a commercial or family business. Since 1919, the International Labour Organization has been waging a war against child labour across the world. However, the World Day against Child Labour this year looks bleak in the face of the ongoing pandemic in the world.
An estimated 386 million children worldwide live in extremely dire poverty, as of 2019 as per a report by the United Nations. The current pandemic of coronavirus disease or COVID-19 will likely result in around 66 million children falling into poverty as the world struggles with a crippling economy. According to a census 2011 report, as many 10.1 million children are engaged in child labour in India and as the world readies itself to get back on its feet after the pandemic is contained, a lot of children will either be forced to engage in child labour for their own survival and/or trafficked into child labour by rings of traffickers. A lot of families struggling to survive will also pull their children out of schools to be made a bread earner to help them and support them in running the family
Children around the world belonging to underprivileged communities have also lost access to education. With a lockdown in place for the past four months in over 188 countries to order to break the spread of disease, only two-third of the countries with mandatory lockdown could provide children with distance and digital learning. However, for children without access to the internet or a device to access the internet, there are no measures taken to prevent their education from being hampered. Only 30% of the children in developing nations were able to continue their education amidst the lockdown.
These children who are faced with a lack of education and now a danger of being pushed into child labour also face the crisis of malnutrition. 368 million children in 144 countries rely on their schools for nutrition through mid-meals provided to them. Millions of these children will also end up losing access to proper nutrition essential for their survival, physical and mental development, if and when pushed into child labour.
The World Day against Child Labour, celebrated on June 12 every year, is faced with hard and inevitable circumstances of millions of children in India and across the world becoming victims of child labour again. Years and years of hard work and efforts put into bringing children out of the circle of exploitation and harm will be rendered useless unless the world order decides to confront the problem head-on.
Even though the circumstances look bleak and a little like a post-apocalyptic movie, the situation is not entirely a lost cause, if the government and non-government agencies tie hands together and commit themselves to ensure that not a single child rescued from child labour has to go back to the deplorable lives again.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore commented on the situation saying, “As we re-imagine the world post-COVID, we need to make sure that children and their families have the tools they need to weather similar storms in the future. Quality education, social protection services, and better economic opportunities can be game-changers.”
Presently, ILO and UNICEF are developing a simulation model to look at the impact of COVID-19 on child labour globally and design the means to provide essential support that countries most at risk will require in order to help to mitigate the crisis in terms of child labour will arise in the world.
Smile Foundation, committed to its goal of bringing every child in school, has ensured regular contact with parents of our present beneficiary children to not let their morale down and consider taking their children out of school in the post-pandemic time. Smile has also reached out to people with support and donated over a million people with daily rations so that they do not have to worry their or their children’s survival in such difficult times.
The efforts being put by national and international authorities and the resolutions being adopted on the World Day against Child Labour by NGOs 7 IGOs, however, will not be possible without the support of the privileged of our country. People with resources to help the worst affected by the pandemic need to donate essential support so that we all can bring a brighter future to every child of this country.