Drought-hit states are seeing a spurt in child labour
The colours of child labour have many touching hues. Shivani (name changed) from Lalitpur district in Uttar Pradesh has a story of anguish to share. When Shivani’s father died due to an illness, two years ago, she was 13. He had left behind a debt of Rs 1 lakh. Shivani, along with her four sisters and mother, are now paying back the debt as well as earning their livelihood. “The family has mortgaged a part of their land and her mother has sold off her jewellery. Shivani was forced to drop out from school and now works in the farm. Shivani is among millions of children who have lost their childhood dreams due to drought and are working to support their families.
The theme of this year’s World Day Against Child Labour on June 12 is the impact of conflicts and disasters on child labour . According to a recent estimate, more than 164 million children were affected by drought last year. The most vulnerable among them – girl children – have been pushed into child marriage, child labour, abduction and child trafficking. The Marathwada region alone has seen about 3,500 children being sucked into child labour and trafficking.
Drought and the ongoing water crisis have left children defenceless. According to UNICEF’s report ‘When coping crumbles: Drought in India 2015-16 ,’ young children and elderly were left behind in drought-affected villages, while adults migrated to the states of Maharashtra and Odisha. Deprived families often saw children as productive assets and earning members. Cases of trafficking (Odisha) and child marriages (Maharashtra and Telangana) have seen a rise in the drought-prone states.
Through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which has been agreed and signed by India, the government has committed that by 2030, all girls and boys will complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes. The government also guarantees that it will take immediate and effective measures to eliminate child labour by 2025. Records of child labour, drought and exclusions have every potential to overpower these commitments.
The amendment to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act passed in July 2016 by Parliament does not clearly define family enterprises and leaves room for interpretations, which are exploited by those engaging children to work. According to Census 2011, there are more than 4.3 million cases of child labour in the country. However, these could be underestimates.
Governments need to take immediate measures to set up institutional mechanisms and strengthen village social and health infrastructure to protect children affected by droughts and civil unrest. In fact, efforts should be taken, even before any disaster strikes in the form of vulnerability assessment and disaster mitigation, with adequate attention to child labour; or else, many more children like Shivani may lose-out on their precious childhood.
Joseph Wesley is a child protection specialist with World Vision India.
The views expressed are personal