By Advocate Meenu Padha; Co- Authors – Tavleen Kaur & Vinayak Sonkar
India needs an instant nationwide awareness and campaigns against the child labour to protect and safeguard children from the economic and social consequences which has been faced due to Covid-19 crisis and lockdowns. Although some of us are practicing social distancing and actively working from home in the hope of a much better tomorrow, there are still a large number of children who may be victims of seemingly positive measures. One effect is the increase in the number of child labour. For many children, the Covid-19 crisis means little or no education due to poverty or less means of technology which will ultimately lead them to lag behind their peers. This will prompt a large number of children to stop learning even after we return to “normalcy” post COVID. Many children who are not in school will embroil themselves in child labour. In the two waves of Covid-19 in India, lakhs of men and women, many of whom did not have stable jobs and depended on daily wages, became unemployed or faced low income which had a spiralling effect on their children. Due to lockdown, the schools are unable to run physically and only a few people can access or receive online education. In the first wave of Covid19 in 2020, more than three-fourth of children did not have access to online learning facility and more than half of the children did not have access to any learning materials. The increasing anxiety of parents, shortage of learning material, low income and non-access to online education, all together has led to an increase in child labour.
The epidemic is clearly appearing to be a child rights crisis, which is increasing the risk of child labour, because more families are falling into extreme poverty. As stated by the United Nations Organisation, 160 million of child labour cases have increased to 8.4 million over the consecutive four years and Covid-19 has been a major contributor to this. Children from poor and disadvantaged families in India are now at a greater risk such as dropping out of school and being forced to work. Lakhs of families in emerging and developing countries are employed as daily workers in the informal sector (rickshaw drivers, construction workers, street vendors, workers in small factories, etc.). In particular, they have lost revenue due to the overwhelming effects of the global lockdown and the pandemic. The sharp decline in income means that families cannot afford basic necessities or money for children’s health care or education. In the formal sector as well, factory closures in countless countries have led to massive layoffs and loss of income, with major consequences being faced by lakhs of workers and their families. As adults are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus than children, the ultimate pressure is increasing upon children specially in poor families, to take the whole responsibility of family and bridge the gap of basic necessity. Since the production base is still looking for the cheapest labour, children are considered to be a very cheap option for such labours and work to meet their demands. Even before the epidemic, the figures for child labour in India were dismal. According to the Census 2011 statistics, the overall number of child labourers in India between the ages of 5 and 14 is 4.35 million (major workers) and 5.76 million (marginal workers), for a total of 10.11 million. Furthermore, there are 22.87 million teenage labourers in India, bringing the total (in the age bracket of 5-18 years) to about 33 million.
In addition to child labour, there are myriad facets of this problem which both result from child labour and also contribute to it. As per the National Crime Records Bureau, in India, one child disappears every eight minutes. India also has the highest child trafficking cases. Children are sometimes removed from their homes to be purchased and sold in the market. In other situations, youngsters are duped into falling into the hands of traffickers by being offered a job, only to be enslaved upon arrival. There are many children trafficked for a variety of causes, including work, begging, and sexual exploitation. Because of the nature of this crime, it is both difficult to trace these children and also prevent their exploitation effectively due to weak law enforcement. While we have an estimate of the issue, understanding its exact scope, and getting ascertainable numbers is very hard. Though the majority of child trafficking happens within the nation, a considerable number of children are trafficked from Nepal and Bangladesh.
Child trafficking is caused by a variety of factors, the most common of which are poverty, ineffective law enforcement, and a lack of high-quality public education. The traffickers that take advantage of children can be from another area in India, or could even know the child personally. Children who return home after being trafficked are typically shunned by their communities rather than welcomed. Poverty, a lack of education, and the need to financially support their family are some of the core causes of child trafficking in India. India’s unemployment rate is quite high, with the United Nations Development Programme estimating it to be 3.5 percent. Furthermore, there aren’t a lot of income opportunities. When youngsters are given the opportunity to labour, they are more likely to be exploited. Children in poverty are frequently compelled to trade sex in exchange for a place to live or food to eat. Some parents have even been compelled to sell their children to traffickers in order to get out of poverty or pay off debts. Gangs frequently traffic children and compel them to beg on the streets. Contemporary cases of begging can be seen in most of the metropolises. Not only are these children being forced to beg for money, but a significant number of those on the streets have had gang leaders forcefully remove their limbs or even pour acid into their eyes to blind them. Those children who are injured tend to make more money by invoking the empathy of the people, which is why they are often abused in this way. Organ trafficking is also widespread, with traffickers tricking or forcing minors to give up their organs.
As per UNICEF, over 300,000 children under the age of 18 are presently being exploited in more than 30 violent situations throughout the world. While the bulk of child soldiers are aged 15 to 18, some are as young as 7 or 8 years old. A huge number of youngsters are kidnapped and forced to serve as soldiers. Others work as porters, chefs, guards, servants, messengers, and spies. Many of these young soldiers have been sexually assaulted, which frequently results in unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted illnesses. Some youngsters have been coerced into carrying out crimes against their families and communities. A lot of children are also made to steal, snatch, kill with a mindset that it is an essential for their living .
Currently, 152 million youngsters, 64 million girls and 88 million boys, labour across the world. This represents nearly one-tenth of all children worldwide. There are about 10 million youngsters in India who are actively engaged in or pursuing employment. Despite considerable attempts done in recent years by the UN, ILO, and individual nations like India, this remains the case. Failure to minimize the number of minors exploited in job circumstances is due to the socio-cultural fabric that allows it to happen and condones the offence, as well as the enormous demand for inexpensive child labour in agricultural, mining, carpet-weaving, garment, brick kiln, and other sectors, as well as the pervasive poverty that continues to be both a cause and a function of child labour.
Selling of minor girls for prostitution is a big subject of concern. These minor girls are syndicated to enormous abuses one cannot even imagine. They are molested, harassed, raped, exploited, stalked, beaten and many more injuries are caused to those small teeny bodies which are sabotaged with cigars, burns, wounds and blood through their legs. While they feel the pain in the earlier years, in later years, girls come to accept it as their fate.
They perceive it as a way of living and consider sexual abuse as a necessary exchange for drugs, food, shelter, protection and other basics of life. Children who are exploited for commercial sex are subjected to child pornography and child prostitution transactions. Commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) of women and children earns around $400 million USD each year in Mumbai alone. According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD), there are around three million prostitutes in the nation, with an estimated 40% of them being youngsters, since there is an increasing desire for extremely young girls to be initiated into prostitution according to customer preferences. Sexual exploitation has many serious implications for these youngsters.
Now the main question which comes up every now and then is – Will the government and general public take strong steps to prevent the abuse of the children and stop child labour and child trafficking?
On a national level, human trafficking is expressly prohibited in Article 23 of the Indian Constitution. To combat the issue of child trafficking, the Indian government has also passed further legislation and modified the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1986 (ITPA) amends the Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act of 1956. (SITA). Human trafficking for prostitution was deemed illegal by SITA, and legal action was detailed for anybody participating in human trafficking in any capacity. ITPA made laws friendlier towards the victim. ITPA also created a system to rehabilitate victims of trafficking and prevent them from bring trafficked again. In 2013, IPC was amended to create new provisions to address Trafficking in India that is more in accordance with the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Particularly Women and Children. State governments have also been observed taking steps to combat child trafficking by attempting to create systems and regulations at the state level. Non-governmental organisations that strive to solve various parts of this issue fill up any gaps in the execution of plans and regulations.
Although India is regarded as a centre for human trafficking, the Indian government places little emphasis on the issue. Hence the way in which the current legal system operates to address child labour in India can be considered as coming into direct conflict with the trend of independent child migration that is seen across the country. Therefore, legal measures are not enough. Every person needs to understand the gravity of this issue, make themselves aware, and keep their eyes and minds open, to help the government where ever possible in tracking the cases of child labour and preventing it.