Giving Compass' Take:

• Puja Marwaha explains how the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the likelihood that children in India will be pressed into child labor instead of getting an education. 

• What role can you play in helping to ensure that children end up getting the education they need instead of laboring? 

• Learn more about how COVID-19 has forced children into labor and begging

The numbers related to child labor in India were bleak even before the pandemic. Census 2011 data suggests that the total number of child laborers in India between 5-14 years of age is 4.35 million (main workers) and 5.76 million (marginal workers)—a total of 10.11 million. Further, the total number of adolescent laborers in India is 22.87 million, bringing the total (in the age group of 5-18 years) to around 33 million.

First, children are forced to work because family incomes are not enough to survive on. With many people losing their jobs due to COVID-19, the financial crises being faced by families has increased manifold. These families will need extra pairs of hands to earn to provide two meals a day, leading to more children entering the economy or working on family-owned enterprises and farms.

Second, children are considered cheap labor, and with businesses and enterprises facing massive financial losses, the demand for cheap labor is going to increase. Due to reverse migration from urban centers, there is also going to be a shortage of adult labor. Children, especially adolescents, will be increasingly in demand to fill this gap.

Third, the pressure on children staying at home, especially girls, will be to contribute to household chores and sibling care. More and more girls will be pulled further away from education and into managing the household.

Fourth, with every livelihood crisis, the risk of trafficking increases. In India, a large number of children are already trafficked for labour. Due to reverse migration caused by the pandemic, a large number of children have returned to their villages. And given the livelihoods crisis already underway in rural areas, the children who are not tracked will become more vulnerable to trafficking. Children in overcrowded relief camps, quarantine centres, and those returning home with their parents are also at increased risk of being trafficked.

Fifth, the closure of schools will lead to a gradual detachment from education, especially for those children who cannot access online education. This detachment will eventually lead to dropouts among children, which in turn will lead to them entering the workforce.

Read the full article about child labor by Puja Marwaha at India Development Review.