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Minister of state for labour and employment Rameswar Teli on Monday informed the Lok Sabha that in the last four years, the number of children rescued or withdrawn from work has increased every year. But covid’s impact on child labour cannot be denied. Mint explains:

What do numbers say about child labour?

The number of children rescued in 2017-18 stood at 47,635. This rose steadily to 50,284 (in 2018-19), 54,894 (in 2019-20) and finally 58,289 (in 2020-21). This trend can be seen worldwide. Child labour has decreased by 38% globally in the last decade, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). But over 152 million children are still in the grip of this social evil, the eradication of which is one of the UN Sustainable Goals. Member states have been asked to take immediate steps to eradicate forced labour and ensure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour and to end it in all forms by 2025.

How big of a problem is it in India?

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, prohibits the employment of children under 14 years of age in any manner and those between 14 and 18 years of age in scheduled hazardous occupations and processes. The enactment of this Act has brought the number of child workers in India down to 10.1 million, according to the 2011 census. Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh were the states with most reported numbers of child workers during that census period. However, this may not show the actual extent of the problem as many instances are unreported.

Long road to eradication
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Long road to eradication

Has the covid-19 pandemic impacted child labour?

The progress to end child labour had stalled for the first time in two decades, according to the ILO and Unicef’s report Child Labour: Global Estimates 2020: Trends and the Road Forward. Job losses have put an additional nine million children at risk of being forced into child labour by the end of 2022 globally, according to the above report.

What are the challenges?

Poverty is the biggest challenge in eradicating child labour. The risk has increased because of reverse migration during the pandemic. As migrant workers returned to their villages, their children started working to help the family. With a shortage of migrant workers in urban areas, children living in slums or on streets would be at a higher risk of being employed. Several states in India have also tweaked labour laws which don’t make it compulsory to inspect firms with less than 50 workers. It would lead to child labour going unreported.

And what is the way forward?

A few challenges remain in the child labour act. The number of hazardous occupations (where those between 14 and 18 years are not to be employed) has declined from 83 to only three. Those under 14 can still be employed in family enterprises, which might keep them away from education. Experts believe there should be a higher budget allocation for social protection of informal workers. Child labour laws must be in line with international labour conventions. Education must be accessible to all children.

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