Dilution of labour laws puts children at risk: activists

‘It will lead to bondage and trafficking’

June 15, 2020 11:12 pm | Updated 11:12 pm IST - NEW DELHI

More vulnerable:   Adolescents may be forced into work during the pandemic.

More vulnerable: Adolescents may be forced into work during the pandemic.

The relaxation of labour laws across 11 States combined with closure of schools and reverse migration to rural areas due to the nationwide lockdown will force lakhs of children into child labour, while those already employed will be forced to work longer hours for meagre wages and under hazardous conditions, warn activists and labour law experts.

Also read: Are India’s labour laws too restrictive?

The changes made to labour laws by various State governments can be broadly divided into two categories — allowing longer working hours and suspending labour rights resulting in lax enforcement — explains Rahul Sapkal, Assistant Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

“The easing of norms will lead to an overall increase in insecurity and informalisation of labour, loss of bargaining power among labourers and deterioration in working conditions, but the impact on children and adolescents will be more severe. There will be an increase in hazardous work,” said Mr. Sapkal.

India contributes to nearly 15% of the global child and adolescent labourers. There are over 10 million working children in the age group of 5 to 14 years and 22.87 million adolescents.

Also read: Plea in Supreme Court challenges changes in labour laws

“Even in the absence of these relaxations, children were extremely vulnerable as witnesses of food and livelihood insecurity resulting in them falling out of the safety net,” says CRY’s Preeti Mahara. “It is possible that adolescents may willingly drop out of school to help their families improve their financial resources. The Child Labour Amendment Act, 2016, allows adolescents to work in certain occupations many of which are hazardous but not identified as such by the law because its list of hazardous occupations is derived from the Factories Act, 1948 which was drafted from the point of view of adults.”

Her organisation is working with partners in 19 States to collaborate with local administration to maintain a headcount of children who are returning to rural areas so that they can be linked with social protection schemes. Ms. Mahara says in the days to come it is imperative that governments work on a vulnerability analysis and reach out to those children who have not returned to schools. “The governments must also launch a rescue and rehabilitation exercise on a large scale and ensure campaigning to curb child labour and spread awareness about social protection services as well as activate anti-human trafficking units.”

Also read: Coronavirus lockdown | Parties protest against labour law dilution

When schools remain shut and access to Internet restricted to a vast majority of students, creative methods must be devised to link children to schooling through radio, television and other means, Ms. Mahara recommends.

Last week, the ILO and UNICEF in a joint brief warned that globally millions more children could be forced into child labour as family incomes drop. It highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse the gains made in the past 20 years to decrease child labour by 94 million.

“Quality education, social protection services and better economic opportunities can be game changers,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.

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