NEW DELHI : The Indian Nobel peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi (awarded in 2014) for his exemplary work in rescuing thousands of children from the scourge of slavery and trafficking, now fears that the coronavirus pandemic could reverse all his efforts and force children back into labor.
“The biggest threat is that millions of children may fall back into slavery, trafficking, child labour, child marriage,” said Satyarthi.
As the pandemic has brought a great dip in Indian economy, millions of people have been pushed into poverty, putting the families under pressure to put their children to work.
Across India child labourers can be found in many industries like brick kilns, carpet-weaving, garment-making, domestic service, agriculture, fisheries and mining. According to UNICEF, about 10.1 million children are still in some form of servitude in India.
“Once children fall into that trap they could be pulled into prostitution and could be trafficked easily … this is another danger which government have to address now,” he said, adding that he believed sexual abuse of children was also on the rise due to the pandemic.
“I cannot be satisfied even if one single child is enslaved … it means there is something wrong in our polity, in our economy, in our society, we have to ensure that not a single child is left out,” he told Reuters.
What do the numbers say?
India was at the 113th position out of the 176 countries on an index that evaluates countries on the well-being of children in 2019. According to Census 2011, around 259.6 million children in India are employed as labourers. Of these, 10.1 million are working as either ‘main labourer’ or as ‘marginal worker’.
Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh constitute around 55 per cent of the total child labourers in India. The Lakshadweep archipelago has the least number of child labourers at 28, followed Daman Diu at 774.