India’s Future Generation at Risk

Where are the children in the recovery scheme?

COVID-19 has brought India to a standstill. While the lockdown has left a serious dent in India’s economic growth trajectory, the country is facing another crisis involving vulnerable children. The March lockdown led to the closure of all Indian schools, most of which remain closed despite the lifting of some restrictions. The economic recession has hit low-income families hardest. Over the past eight months, millions of public school children in India, particularly in poorer communities, have been deprived of the one free meal they were guaranteed to receive each day at school.

Out of school and trafficked into labour . . .

Indian industries that have re-opened in an effort to mitigate losses due to the lockdown are looking for cheap child labour, which in turn is forcing poor families to send their children to work. The desperation of these families has led to a booming business for traffickers. Children are lured away from their homes with the false promise of money for them and their families, and then either forced into unpaid labour in hazardous conditions, or sold. Supplementing family income is one of the biggest reasons for the rise in child labour, and the pandemic has made the cycle worse. According to the 2011 Indian Census, prior to the pandemic there were 10.1 million children between the ages of five and 14 years employed as labourers in India, mostly in the industries of brick kilns, carpet weaving, garment manufacturing, and agriculture.

Legal and social protections for children . . .

Children between the ages of 14 and 18 are considered adolescents in India and are legally eligible to work, but not in industries that are defined as hazardous, such as mining or explosives. India has a list of laws and acts to protect children from forced labour and trafficking. However, activists fear that the current crisis will reverse years of progress. One of the most effective protective measures is to keep children in school, which requires careful planning and the re-opening of schools. India is not alone in this fight against child labour. UNICEF estimates that at least one in 10 children globally are engaged in child labour.