Covid-19: Why poor kids may be pushed to work

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on July 24, 2020 Published on July 24, 2020

Thousands of school students hailing from poor families in Maharashtra are completely disconnected from schools and teachers following the Covid-19 outbreak, and teachers fear that the majority of children might have stepped out for work to support their financially-crippled families in these times of lockdown.

“The number of child labour has definitely gone up, though there is no such survey. Online education is limited to a few who have mobile handsets and an internet connection, and those who don’t have these have been cut off from education in the last five months. It is difficult to keep poor children in the flow of education even during normal circumstances, and the Covid-19 crisis has worsened the financial condition of poor families,” said Bhau Chaskar, member of Maharashtra-based Active Teachers’ Forum (ATF). Chaskar added that along with child labour, child marriages of girls too would go up.

According to 2011 census, India reported 43.53 lakh children working as labourers. About 52 per cent of India’s total child workers are located in four States, with Uttar Pradesh leading with 8.96 lakh child labourers followed by Maharashtra (4.96 lakh), Bihar (4.51 lakh) and Andhra Pradesh (4 lakh).

“Since child labour is the result of socio-economic conditions, a definite timeline for elimination of child labour cannot be ascertained,” the Ministry of Labour and Employment told Lok Sabha in March.

The Covid-19 crisis is causing an unprecedented drop-off in economic activity, stated the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF in a recent report titled ‘Covid-19 and Child Labour: A Times of Crisis, A Time to Act’. The report says that children are often the most available labour in households. When households need more financial support, they turn to children. Parental unemployment due to economic shocks lead children to step in to provide temporary support. Such effects have been documented in India and a other few countries.

The report added that child labour is prevalent mainly in the informal economy, where children can easily step in as unskilled labourers. Threats to children’s rights from an enlarged informal sector should therefore, not be underestimated.

The recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS) reveals that the cost of schooling was the biggest reason for children not attending school. The median number of years of schooling completed was just 4.4 for girls compared to 6.9 for boys.

“This kharif season, many children in rural Maharashtra worked with their parents in the fields. Children left school bags at home and are helping their parents to earn a livelihood,” says activist and school teacher Maruti Khude. He is not sure how many of his students will return to school once regular classes start.

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Published on July 24, 2020
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