At a time when the pandemic has consumed all of our attention, we have overlooked some more important causes that deserve an immediate focus. Child Labor has always been a social menace. But, it has been particularly aggravated due to the effects of the lockdown. As a country which is at the prime of its demographic dividend, we need to be more proactive in the formulation and implementation of policies to promote the development of our younger population who are poised to take over the reins of the nation in the aftermath of the ongoing pandemic. Therefore, turning a blind eye to their miseries and compromising their interests by bargaining industrial solicitation and better investments is inopportune. This piece takes a closer look at how the plight of the child laborers has worsened during the pandemic and what can be done to assist them.
Keywords: child laborers, loss of jobs, regulatory changes, violent family, Article 24, underage drug abuse, ILO Conventions
At a time when the entire world is witnessing the worst global crisis to have hit since the days of the World Wars, and all the countries are pooling their focus and commitment towards tackling the pandemic, some of the more important causes have strayed from our attention. June 12, the International Day against Child Labor, was recently observed and it reminded us of the commitment to promote the interests our budding citizenry who hold the keys to a promising future.
While the country was busy rebuilding a supersaturated health infrastructure and unforeseen support extended towards medical professionals, we were delayed in our acknowledgement of the migrant crisis. Images of migrant laborers prodding through the length and breadth of the country, in an effort to get back to their homes after facing the loss of jobs in the cities they resided in, is a scene that will continue to besiege the average Indians’ conscience for years to come. These included scores of child laborers who were either part of their migrant families or had set out on their own.
Recent Regulatory Changes
The departments of labor and employment from 18 Indian states, recently enforced many changes in their labor laws so as to attract investments and enhance the ease of doing business. Although this was done with a pressing objective to garner investments and revitalize a wounded industrial sector, it does compromise with the rights of laborers and other stakeholders to a certain extent.
With a population of over 10.1 million child laborers, it is impossible to assume that the effects of these liberalized industrial standards will not trickle down to thousands of children employed in the largely unregulated industrial environment of the country. Based on stark inequities of education and collective bargaining, the child laborers will be the direct victims of industrial masters who are now emboldened with the flex of regulatory lax, courtesy of these state-wise changes. One would ideally hope the Child and Adolescent Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act (CLPRA), 2016 to emerge as the instrument of recourse in these circumstances. The CLPRA is, however, bogged with a number of deficiencies that makes impossible for it to enforce Article 24 of the Constitution (prohibiting employment of children below the age of 14 in hazardous situations) in the letter as well as in spirit.
The second impetuous consequence of the lockdown has been a stark increase in cases of domestic violence. Owing to the closure of schools and no prospects of work, women and children huddled with violent family members inside the same house have fallen victims to abuse. Often, children are employed as a part of family businesses. The introduction of Mid-Day Meals Scheme (MDMS) also gave an impetus to primary school enrolment and emerged as a major motivation for attendance.
However, the lockdown brought the conduct of businesses as well as MDMS to an abrupt end, which in turn spelled unfavorable consequences for children from abusive families who utilized work and school as channels of escape from systemic abuse. Not only are they rendered helpless with the vagaries of challenging adolescence but also to the perils of a vicious cycle of poverty, illiteracy and a flawed social structure that very often doesn’t assist them in rebuilding their lives after they have fallen victim to such cycle.
Effects of the Lockdown
Third, starting with the Unlock 1.0 measure, the economy and social cycles have resumed their courses and eased burden significantly from children and their families. A new paradigm that has, however, emerged in workplaces is a heightened adherence to improved standards of hygiene and social distancing to prevent the further spread of coronavirus. This should be administered with utmost competence, including in industrial workplaces where child laborers are employed. Let us not forget a good number of the surge in COVID-19 cases in eastern and central India were attributed to the return of migrant laborers who contracted the diseases in their work environments and brought it back to their hometowns. The more susceptible they are to flouting lockdown guidelines, the more likely it is for the children to contract the disease, thus spelling an additional chapter of angst and misery in their lives. The Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that are currently issued by the government every month at present, must be administered with iron-clad adherence. Children must also be coached and cautioned appropriately about the still-looming dangers of the disease and the ways to cope with them,
Redefining ‘Hazardous Activities’
Experts from around the world, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have reiterated that subsistence amidst the pandemic is going to be a ‘new normal’ in the coming days. Since there is no other substitute for the resumption of activities, it is incumbent upon the government to ensure a smooth transition of life in the post-COVID-19 world. As far as securing the rights of child laborers are concerned, a major legislative overhaul in CLPRA is imminent. It makes prudent sense to increase the scope of ‘hazardous activities’ illustrated under the Act wherein children below the age of 14 are barred from being employed. Activities like haulage, transport, garments, etc. where social distancing can’t reasonably be avoided, must exclude the employment of children to protect them against contraction.
The new labor laws, albeit, encouraging in their pursuit of attracting investments and promoting industries to revive the economy, require significant reconsiderations. Provisions such as exempting routine inspection for an industry with less than 50 workmen, need to be reinstituted, to supervise the treatment of child laborers. The Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, in spite of its creditability, demands further amendments to increase scrutiny over cases of harassment emanating from the workplaces that employ child laborers.
However, doing so, should in no way indicate the shift in policy from the total prohibition of child labor practices, to affirmative action in terms of monitoring the facilities accorded to the laborers. Child labor is, undeniably, a social plight. Although, if the authorities are unable to provide for strict adherence to the dictated policy of prohibition, they must ensure enforcement of regulation from the other side, (i.e. the employers of labor) until such time when the rescue and rehabilitation of children employed therein is successfully achieved.
The Menace of Underage Drug Abuse
The practice of drug abuse among urban homeless children is an insufferable plight that commands earnest attention. The practice is unfortunately on the increase on account of closure of schools and loss of employment due to the lockdown. Mass sensitization campaigns must be organized with support from both the government as well as private philanthropic institutions to fight against a practice of this kind. The aim here is to weed out the practice of drug abuse, rehabilitate affected children and commit them to institutions where they can be educated and engaged in vocational training exercises.
Ways to Embark down the Path of Mitigation
Although the Constitution has espoused for a complete ban on the practice of child labor, we are far from achieving that goal. It is true that we have ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Conventions on Child Labor. But, we haven’t yet built significant institutional frameworks to reaffirm our commitment. It should start by establishing expert Labor cells throughout the country under the guidance of Chief Labor Commissioners of the respective states. These cells must specialize in creating awareness, receiving and addressing grievances, instituting task forces to rescue child laborers and aid in their post-abuse rehabilitation.
Non-Governmental Organizations working with the Ministry of Women and Child Development must urgently amend their agendas to work in the areas of preventing child labor. They must be motivated to use sufficient resources at their disposal to provide suitable home care and even possibly assist in the adoption of these children into responsible families who offer to take them in under agreed-upon rules of monitoring. The post-abuse treatment of these children should be arranged with special care via medical assistance and routine counselling.
There is no excuse for allowing the practice of child labor to continue in any form anywhere in the world. An individual’s formative years are meant for learning, not for earning. Knowing that an evil such as this still persists is an ignominy to us all and is a humiliating indication of our failure to take care of our children before conceiving any other realities that might challenge us. If we wish to confront this issue, we must face it head-on, taking no excuse for violation and leaving no quarter in shoring up shelters and caretaking infrastructure. The children’s right to life and primary education must be an unreserved guarantee, not a compromised vision.
There is an ongoing debate in the USA about whether schools and child-care facilities should be reopened in the aftermath of the pandemic because the productive workforce of the country cannot return to their jobs unless they are reassured of their children being safely cared for during the day-time business hours. This is evidently the biggest divide between the developed and developing world, that is, the thoroughness preferred upon the quality and guarantee of care afforded to the most delicate generation, than the desire to quickly resume operations in order to revive a broken economy. We must take a cue from one of our closest allies in this regard and work ceaselessly in striving and pushing for changes that will lead to a better future for our children.
Author: Padmini Subhashree, Associate, Citizens’ Foundation for Policy SolutionsSource:https://fineartamerica.com/featured/child-labour-sumit-tikhe.html