The Centre does not have any data on child labour in the country and a reason for this is the drying up of budgetary provisions meant for the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) scheme, which was monitoring the problem for about three decades. The Labour Ministry is learnt to have told the Parliament Standing Committee on Labour, headed by veteran Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP, Bhartruhari Mahtab, that since the NCLP was merged with the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan in 2016, the Ministry has no records of child labour. The currently available data is of the 2011 Census, which says the country has more than a million child labourers. Last year, the panel had pulled up the Centre for lack of data on migrant workers.
Searching for proper data on child labour, the Standing Committee reached out to 14 Union Ministries and Departments, including the Home Ministry, the Women and Child Development Ministry, and several States. “Almost all the Ministries have told us that they do not have any data. The Labour Ministry says that we may have to wait till the next census to make an assessment of the number. The NCLP’s schools for child labourers work for three to four years and they have also more or less stopped functioning due to scarcity of funds. Education Ministry also does have not a mechanism to find out the number of children engaged in child labour. This is a serious situation,” a senior member in the panel said.
It is for the first time that a Parliamentary panel is engaged in a detailed examination of the national policy on child labour. The member said that the menace of child labour is continuing unchecked despite the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. “We have received some empirical reports by certain NGOs that child labour has increased after the pandemic. We are specifically looking into this issue. It means children are more vulnerable now and the lack of data will hamper any efforts to help them,” the member said.
On Tuesday, NGOs such as Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Aide et Action, Childline India Foundation, Prayas Juvenile Aid Centre, Save the Children, and SOS Children’s Villages, appeared before the panel on the issue. “The NGOs also do not have any proper assessment of the number of children in labour. The Home Ministry had earlier made a detailed presentation on issues such as child trafficking, but it doesn’t track if any children are employed in work places,” another member said.
On Wednesday, the Governments of Delhi, Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Assam, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu will brief the panel on the issue of child labour in their respective States. “As the Centre does not have any data, we decided we should hear what States have to say about this problem,” an Opposition MP on the panel said.