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Child Labour Laws in times of Covid-19
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Child Labour Laws in times of Covid-19
Child Labour Laws in times of Covid-19

India is on the 4th position when talking about the coronavirus badly affected countries. The number of cases in the country is increasing rapidly, and there is yet no solution discovered for the same. The government is trying its best to tackle the situation and therefore, is constantly imposing relaxations on different laws to improve the circumstances for everyone. These relaxations have been imposed on the migrant workers, schools and colleges, large scale and small scale companies, and now also on the child labour laws.

International Labour Organization

The ILO (International Labour Organization) has asked India to ensure that children should not fall into the trap of child labour, post the outbreak of covid-19, which has led to the significant decline in family incomes and due to the disrupted school education. A six-point roadmap for India is laid out which addresses the problem of poverty alleviation measures bring about universal social security, come up with education-related measures to ensure children go back to school, regulate laws and enforce them while ensuring there is the social dialogue between all stakeholders. This was suggested by the director of the ILO, Dagmar Walter.

The thing is, lockdown imposed has made many families helpless and poor. This has, in turn, led to the situation, where the parents will ask their children to work and earn, instead of study, when the lockdown opens. A webinar was arranged on World Day Against child labour which was jointly organised by the ILO, labour ministry and the VV Giri National Labour Institute on Friday in which Walter addressed India.

Coming to a conclusion, that there are high chances, that child labour will increase post-Covid-19, the Union Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar has ensured that the government will work under a concrete national plan to eradicate child labour within the given time. Centre, states and society at large will have to work collectively to help eradicate child labour from the country. According to the existing laws of India, no child below the age of 14 can be allowed to indulge in any kind of work.

As per the recent reports of ILO-UNICEF, globally 152 million children are working as child labourers out of which 72 million are involved in hazardous jobs. These children are now at even greater risk of facing circumstances that are even more difficult and working longer hours. The current pandemic is expected to raise the child labour, the first time in the last 20 years. From 2000, India has only witnessed a decrease of child labour by 94 million, but this gain soon can be reversed according to the warnings of the two multilateral bodies, which are ILO and UNICEF. The studies suggest that a one percentage point rise in poverty leads to at least a 0.7 per cent increase in child labour in certain countries. Factors like quality education, better economic opportunities and social protection services can play game changers and reduce poverty as well as increasing child labour in the country.

States like Madhya Pradesh are also more vulnerable because it is among the five states in the country with the highest number of child labourers with total 7,00,239 child labourers according to the 2011 Census. Of it, 4,13,929—that is more than half—are adolescents (15-18 years) while others are in the age group of 5-14 years. MP contributes 7 per cent of the child labourers in the country, while UP tops the list with 22 per cent, followed by Bihar at 11 per cent and Rajasthan 8 per cent.

Formation of Alliance

There is a constant fear that relaxations provided in the labour laws may drive the women and child to join work and earn for their families. To combat this situation, an alliance of NGOs has come together to request the Indian government to review the rules and regulations of the same. The Alliance Working Group on Women in Value Chains (WiVC), have highlighted that how guidelines issued by the government in various states is adopted to promote business operations and as well as to maintain the steady output to drive economic growth that can lead to dilution of labour law. 

To form a group of NGOs, under Working Group on Women in Value Chains (WiVC), the NGOs which have come forward and took a stand are Sewa Bharat, International Development Research Centre, CARE India, Society for Labour and Development, Oxfam India, Save the Children, change alliance and many others.

As the lockdown has lifted at places, the factories have increased the working hours from nine to 10 or 12 hours a day, suspension of inspection mechanisms at someplace, and dilution of the labour laws can adversely impact women and affect children in households which is again a global crisis for the country. In a statement released by the alliance of NGOs, it read, that, "Dilution of monitoring mechanisms through tapered inspection may lead to increased incidences of exploitation and abuse of workers and see children join the workforce."

The migrant labourers are considered as a key element in the urban economy and therefore are called back in the lockdown due to the absence of employment and insecurity of income, resulting in increased vulnerability, exploitation and poverty. Moreover, the extended working hours are expected to impact the time of the parents, and they would be left with less time to concentrate on the well-being and education of their children. As there will be a reduction of benefits for the workers and their families, it will negatively impact the wellbeing of the children. According to the reports suggested, evidence shows that all these factors will result in a decrease in the participation rates of women in the labour market.

The WiVC have requested the government to restore the relevant provisions of labour laws to make sure that the workers and labourers are looked after in the formal and as well as in the informal sector. With this, the government has to ensure the commitment of state and businesses to adhere to internationally recognized labour standards and engage with suppliers to promote the safety and security of workers engaged in various tiers of the supply chain, so that the workers are not scared to come to the workplace. The alliance has further appealed the government to keep a watch on the labour departments in the states to identify violations of relevant provisions of labour laws, including non-payment of wages and exploitative or unsafe working conditions and take action.

Conclusion

The country is already going through one of the major crisis and therefore putting the country in another crisis is not the solution. It is important that when the government is putting on relaxations, it keeps in mind about the circumstances of these poor families who need the utmost support of the government right now. The recent relaxations in labour laws, undertaken in view of the pandemic is further likely to precipitate the crisis in states like Madhya Pradesh, the analysis conducted with the support of Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

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