Will Covid-19 lead to more school drop-outs?

Ravikanth Nandula | | Updated on: Nov 13, 2020

This Children’s Day, we look at how the pandemic may spur child labour

Education in India took a massive blow due to the pandemic and the resultant lockdowns. Even as the unlock periods allowed a little of re-opening and remote learning was established as an alternative, bulk of schools remain closed in India.

Could all this have a negative impact on the numerous efforts against child labour? To wean children away from work and towards education?

Experts seem to think so.

In a survey conducted among the NGOs that work with children, organised by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, 85 per cent of the responding organisations felt that school drop-outs are likely to increase in the post-lockdown period.

With losses in household income, expectations that children contribute financially can intensify. More children could be forced into seeking jobs, the report says.

“Those already working may do so for longer hours or under worsening conditions. Gender inequalities may also grow more acute within families, with girls expected to perform additional household chores and agricultural work (rather than attend school),” the report opined.

As part of the same project under privileged rural households that have school going children were also surveyed. The report says that 20 per cent of the respondent households with school going children are potentially ready to consider withdrawing their children from school due to financial reasons and deny them their right to get educated.

Another report put together by UNICEF in partnership with ILO to study the impact of the pandemic on children highlighted that temporary school closures may exacerbate the tendency of using children for labour, as households look for new ways to allocate children’s time.

Drop-out rate

According to the United Nations, there are 250 million school-going children in India. The enrolment rates for progressive stages of schooling have been growing steadily over the decades. According to 2015-16 estimates of UNICEF, 8.5 per cent of enrolled children drop-out before finishing primary school and 19.1 per cent before completing secondary school education in India.

The number, however, rises alarmingly to 57 per cent at higher secondary level of education. Presumably, this is the age at which children are forced to seek work due to underlying social, economic, financial and cultural reasons. The pandemic might push this drop-out rate even higher.

Efforts so far

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that of the 152 million child labourers in the world, more than 7 per cent are in India.

Since then, with the new laws added to the existing ones and numerous private organisations and NGOs joining the initiative against child labour, the number of children opting for work than education seems to have come down over the last decade.

The national Child Labour Project, launched in 1988, runs about 6,000 special schools. As on date, more than 10 lakh children have been mainstreamed into the formal education system under the scheme, according to the Ministry of Labour.

According to the last census recorded in the country, census of India 2011, 10.1 million children were engaged in labour or seeking work. By the time the next census is compiled, the pandemic could well have left its imprint on these numbers.

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Published on November 13, 2020
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