Rights activists caution against child labour and trafficking during pandemic
Child labour, abandonment by family members, risk of trafficking, child marriage, malnourishment, and an increasing number of school dropouts – these are some risks the national capital’s children are facing due to Covid-19 pandemic-induced hardships in marginalised communities, experts said.
A Covid-19 ground report released by child rights NGO Protsahan, which is working closely with Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) on counselling Covid-19 orphans, said that the second wave of Covid-19 has left many children at high risk for child labour, trafficking, and child marriage. The report was prepared after surveying 56 slum communities in west Delhi covering over 650 families and around 1,300 children.
“The virus has resulted in loss of income and economic crisis, causing families’ reduced capacity to care for children in the long-term. It has also caused, in some instances, loss of parental care due to death, illness or separation, thereby placing children at heightened risk for violence, neglect or exploitation,” the report stated.
The report stated that underreporting of Covid-19 deaths is also a major challenge for officials working in the sector. “Though several state governments and the Centre have announced relief measures and benefits for children losing one or both primary caregivers, the genuine cases will also find it impossible to access these benefits because most people who succumbed to Covid-19-like symptoms, never got their RT-PCR testing done (especially in slum clusters or impoverished brackets),” the report stated.
Sonal Kapoor, the founder of Protsahan, said that the challenge is to ensure last-mile access to the beneficiaries of the schemes introduced by the government.
According to a survey conducted by DCPCR, at least 2,043 children in the city have lost either one or both of their parents during the Covid-19 pandemic. The commission said it had started various interventions to address issues of child rights violations, including starting a dedicated helpline for children, initiating remedial intervention for those who lost their parents to Covid-19, efforts to eradicate begging, and constituting 11 district task forces to attend such issues.
“The commission observed that amid the pandemic and the consequential lockdown, a rising number of children is at risk of dropping out of schools and being pushed into child labour and beggary. To combat this issue, the commission, in collaboration, with the directorate of education has initiated the designing of a management information system called the early warning system (EWS), which will track children’s school attendance on a real-time basis to identify potential dropouts and trigger necessary alerts for the school administration and education department to act upon,” DCPCR chairperson Anurag Kundu said.
The report also stated that child labour has emerged as one of the biggest child rights violations in the wake of the pandemic. “In just a 6km radius from Uttam Nagar Metro station to Hastalgaon, one can easily spot over 120+ children involved in non-hazardous and hazardous child labour work,” the report stated.
The risk of child marriages has also increased due to multiple factors, including economic hardships, school closures and interruptions in child care services. “The unemployment crisis and economic uncertainty stemming from the pandemic is bringing more families to use child marriage as a coping mechanism,” the report stated.
Several other organisations also cautioned against child labour as one of the biggest risks for marginalised children. “In the past one year, over 2,000 children reached our shelter homes and rescued over 800 more children who were working in hazardous conditions. These are unprecedented numbers as compared to previous years. In ten months, the Childline India foundation received 4.4 million calls and we acted upon 400,000 calls regarding children affected by Covid-19,” said retired IPS officer Amod Kanth, founder of NGO Prayas.