Published: 25th March 2021
Child labour among vulnerable communities increases by 280 per cent in TN after pandemic, pushes abuse cases sky-high
After schools closed, the report found that out of the 553 children they interviewed, 419 had started working after the pandemic started
A recent report has shown that there has been a huge jump in the proportion of working children from 28.2 percent to 79.6 per cent in Tamil Nadu because of the impact of COVID-19 and school closures. Among vulnerable communities, child labour has increased by nearly 280 per cent. Let that number just sink in for a bit.
It goes without saying that NGOs believe that the current crisis is reversing the gains achieved for children and there is an urgent need to bring them back to schools. This is precisely the view expressed in the report by the Campaign against Child Labour.
Where did they work?
After schools closed, the report found that out of the 553 children they interviewed, 419 had started working after the pandemic started. “As much as 30.8 per cent of the children were working in the manufacturing sector and 26.4 were in the service sector and the third major sector was in agriculture mostly in rural areas. Home-based cottage industry had 13.7 per cent of children working. While 26 per cent fo the children were working for less than four hours, 39 per cent were working for 4-8 hours every day. Another 31 per cent were found to be working for more than 8 hours a day,” the report stated. 18 per cent of working children said that they were facing abuse both physical, mental and verbal from their employers.
“More than 94 per cent of the children have said that the economic crisis at home and family pressure has pushed them into work. A few children reported that the reason was being unable to buy a smartphone, boredom at home, not interested in education. About 81 per cent of children said they would go back to school while 14 per cent said they would not go back and about 5 per cent said they were not sure yet,” the CACL found.
Abuse was a direct result of this exploitation. “Recent erosion of labour rights in India has fueled the increased use of unorganised labour, facilitating the use of child labour in the current crisis. Mortality among parents due to COVID-19 could force children to become breadwinners for their households. Orphaned children are also particularly vulnerable to trafficking. The nationwide school closure will disproportionately hamper the education of underprivileged children in government schools, with many ending up permanently out of school and in the workforce. India has tens of thousands of street children, whose vulnerability (e.g. to trafficking) will be greatly increased by loss of ‘traditional’ income opportunities (e.g. begging) coupled with the loss of support from welfare organisations/NGOs.,” the report predicted.
Already it has been reported that 200 children were rescued from industries. It is stated that the practice of child labour is rampant in districts including Virudhunagar, Coimbatore, Erode, Namakkal and Tiruppur, which house garments, textile and firecracker industries in large numbers. “174 children were rescued from a single garment industry in Tiruppur district. The children were brought from Tiruvannamalai, Vizhupuram and Krishnagiri districts and were forced to work for 12 to 14 hours. They were all secondary and higher secondary students who started working because of school closure. But the employer has been refusing to let them go back. Given the number of children rescued from a single factory, the number of child labour employed across the thousands of textile and garment factories could be very high. Similarly, four children were rescued from a firecracker unit in the Sivakasi area. In all the cases, the rescued children are school-going and were not working earlier,” the team pointed out.
A problem that runs deep
The report found that among the children they surveyed, 65 per cent were in schools while 25 per cent were at work. Seven per cent were combining work and school while 3 per cent were idle for different reasons. The survey focused only on urban and rural poor households and the report revealed that a majority of the households belong to SC, ST communities. Almost half the households constituted about 49 per cent of the children belonged to the SC community while 16.6 per cent belonged to ST communities, followed by the most backward communities (MBC) who formed 23 per cent and other backward castes (OBC) accounted for 7.9 per cent.
Out of 553 children surveyed, it was found that 77.8 per cent were studying in government schools and 16.6 per cent were in government-aided schools, only 5.6 percent of children were studying in private schools. Only one-third of the students said they had received books, notebooks, bags and footwear from the school and only 9 per cent said they had received dry rations or monetary support for three months and 47 per cent said they had not received any kind of support at all.
CACL found that only 43 per cent of school-going children had attempted to attend online classes in all the zones that had been surveyed. Though they knew about the classes, 24 per cent had not attended the classes and only 9.1 per cent of the children said they had attended 100 per cent of the online classes. The reasons for students missing out on classes was lack of smartphones, lack of good internet connectivity, they needed to work outside, bad atmosphere at home and so on. One-third of the students said they had not benefited from the online classes and 90 percent graded online classes as below the expected level of satisfaction. “Many children have said that the classes were monotonous and boring. There was no way of asking doubts and getting them clarified. Only 16.3 per cent had their own mobile phone,” the report said.
Why did the online classes not work?
The Tamil Nadu government had started broadcasting classes on TV in order to reach out to students who didn’t have access to gadgets or the internet. The CACL survey shows that only a shocking 6.7 per cent of the school children from vulnerable families had attended it regularly. “Poor attendance was due to the classes being boring and uninteresting, there was no way of clearing doubts, lack of TV or bad cable connection, bad family atmosphere, TV under repair and similar such problems,” the survey found.
In its suggestions, the CACL urged the government to ensure minimum guaranteed employment for all and in this content, they demanded the enhancement of the number of assured employment in NREGA with a higher rate of wages in rural areas, “Vulnerable families should be covered under a comprehensive social protection scheme to ensure a decent living. Labour laws and regulations should be strictly enforced. Child labour laws should be strictly enforced.”