Over the ages, migration has proved to be a negative experience for those who reside in outskirts of a city and come in the urban centre for better opportunities. Among these migrants, one of the most vulnerable groups are children because they are often subjected to maltreatment. This is because they suffer from violence, have to work in poor working conditions for longer hours and are not given any wages for their work. Further, these children have to migrate with their families and are deprived of basic educational facilities. They end up being engaged in occupations that can be hazardous in nature which cause them health problems and hampers their overall development. As per one of the surveys, working children are a part of various sectors such as agricultural (73.3%), manufacturing (12.4%), service (11.5%) and constitute 2.8% in other sectors. In 2002, it was estimated by International Labour Organisation that 11.2 percent of children between the ages 10 to 14 years were working.
LEGISLATIONS TO PREVENT CHILD LABOUR
There have been many legislations to ensure the protection of children from forced labour such as the Penal Code and the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act of 1956, Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1976, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 which was later amended in 2016, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2000 which has been replaced by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 etc. Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act of 1956 came into existence so as to prevent the trafficking and commercial exploitation of children. Further, Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1976 was formed with a motive to investigate the allegations of bonded labour and child bonded labour by the district-level Vigilance Committees. As a result of extraction of bonded labour, the punishment given to the offender is up to 3 years in prison and a fine 2,000 of rupees. Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 was formulated taking in account the situation of children who are forced in labour because of various circumstances so as to fulfil the family needs stuck in poverty. It aimed at prohibiting the employment of children under the age of 14 years in the hazardous occupations such as beedi-making, carpet-weaving, cement manufacture including bagging of cement, cloth printing, dyeing and weaving, manufacture of matches, explosive and fireworks, mica cutting and splitting, work in slaughterhouses, soap manufacture, trash picking etc. Apart from that, employers who have employed children of any other age in all other activities, had to adhere to all the legal restrictions which includes maximum of 6-hour work day with a 1-hour break period with one day holiday per week. Non-adherence of these legal restrictions would attract penalties that are 3 months to 1-year imprisonment and a fine of rupees 10,000 to 20,000. Earlier, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2000 mainly aimed for punishment of those who acted in contravention of other labour laws.
In 1988, the Ministry of Labour and Employment initiated a National Child Labour Projects (NCLPs), with an aim to rehabilitate all the working children within the scope of target areas. Later in 2004, (NCLPs) were expanded in 50 new districts. Herein, the target areas include children who are 14 or below 14 years of age, children who are above 15 years of age and are indulged in hazardous jobs and the families of all the above-mentioned categories of children. The NCLP model focuses on the formation of special schools that would provide skill training, non-formal education, vocational training, stipends, and mid-day meal schemes. According to Bureau of International Labour Affairs, NCLPs are formed in 150 districts spread across 20 states, and the government aim to increase these NCLPs to 250 as per Tenth Development Plan that is from 2002-2007. Consequently, the Ministry in this plan, has allocated for the 6.02 billion rupees, which has increased from the 2.05 billion rupees allocated in the previous 5-year plan. As a result of this scheme, 320,000 children have been rescued from hazardous work and are integrated in NCLP schools across the country.
The ILO’s International Programme on Elimination of Child labour was formed in 1992 with an objective to eliminate all forms of child labour and strengthen the capacity of all the countries to fight child labour. Following this movement in 2001, the US Department of labour worked together with Government of India to fund this project and primarily focused to eliminate child labour in 10 hazardous sectors in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. As of 2001, the Government of India has contributed a total of USD 20 million toward the project.
It has to be noted that there always exists a gap between formulating the policy and its actual implementation. According to the U.S. Department of State, child labour laws are not adequately implemented as there is lack of proper infrastructure, members of the committee do not regularly attend the meetings , committees are not reconstituted after the prescribe period of time, stakeholders do not pay much heed in the system, inspectors are either overburdened with work or not properly trained and people are ready to hire child labourers to satisfy their production needs. In reality, the enforcement regarding bonded child labour takes a back seat because the of district magistrates who have the responsibility of enforcing the law do not get proper training and the role played by the local vigilance committees made under law is not active. Furthermore, corruption at every level organized and complexity of procedures hinder the enforcement or the implantation of laws.
Similarly, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 provided for the formation of district welfare committees and the children who are in the need of care and protection would be rehabilitated accordingly. As simple as it sounds, the ground reality in this case is however very different. For instance, in one of the cases four minors had escape from a cattle rearing farm in Pune where they worked as child labourers and later, they were given shelter in a state-funded children’s home. Further, when the case was heard before the committee, one of the reports claimed that the children could not have worked as child labourers because they were sent to rural school as a part of rehabilitation programme. However, it was later realised that their presence was only on paper and they never attended schools.
CHILD LABOUR IN THE TIMES OF CORONA-
From 2001- 2011 census, number of children engaged in labour had come down to 10.1 million, or 1.01 crore from the figure of 1.26 crore. The due year for next census is 2021 and the procedure of house-listing was supposed to be started by April, 2020. But this process took a backseat because of the current circumstances, which resulted in almost 3 months lockdown. Thus, there are high chances in future that there might be procedural lapses that would eventually result in erroneous data in every sphere including the numbers relating to child labour.
Further COVID-19 has severely affected the employment in terms of quality and quantity all over the word. The further turbulence in the economic market will increase both unemployment and underemployment that would lead to compromise in adjustment to wages, social security and working hours. As we have already seen that manufacturing sector has hit the rock bottom, this pandemic will have an adverse effect on the informal sector workers which includes contract workers, self-employed etc. constituting India’s 90 percent workforce. According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) weekly tracker survey, the consequences of COVID-19 has decreased the urban unemployment rate to 30.9% (as on April 5, which was 8.21% on March 15). It has been estimated that around 400 million informal workers in India might lose their jobs and not able to return to their normal livelihood. As a result, these migrant workers would not be left with an option but to send their children to render labour and support the income of the their families. It has been noted that 62.8% of the total workforce involves children of age 16-18 years in hazardous work and 10% of that proportion are engaged in family enterprises. This throws light on one of the major flaws in child labour laws because children would continue to work in family enterprises and their own farmlands. to Covid-19 production has reduced drastically and employers will opt for cheapest labour and under such circumstances, adolescent workers would be ready to work for more than the prescribed number of hours and at a very less wage rate. Due to the expensive treatment, in case the migrant workers borne this infection, there are high chances that family would not be able to afford treatment and end up suffering. Thus, in such situation many children would be orphaned and would be subjected to inhumane activities such as human trafficking, begging, forced or bonded labour, sexual exploitation etc. Further, as the schools have shut down for more than 4 months and the pattern of education system has shifted to internet-based education, it has been noted that a large number of children does not have internet access and are denied basic education. Simultaneously, a recent Calcutta High Court order highlighted the plight of children due to the rise in child trafficking cases in the state. The bench further took in account that the adolescent children are most vulnerable to trafficking in the lieu of economic stability and better future. The court stated that “It is a common perception that the natal family is the safest heaven of the younger children yet they are trafficked by the family itself because of poverty and uncertainty of social stability.” Bachpan Bachao NGO filed a report that due to the Amphan cyclone and the lockdown, 136 young adolescent girls were married off. Even after lifting of the lockdown, the Court took in cognizance that there is high probability that the cases of trafficking would drastically rise due to for labour and commercial sexual exploitation because the borders of the State of West Bengal are very porous in nature.
In such unprecedented times, there is a need that Judiciary, state actors as well as the members of the civil society should resolve this situation because in the recent order of Calcutta High Court said that “We would be failing in our duty if we cannot protect the children from any kind of abuse including their exploitation.” Further, there should be proper systems which would be under a responsibility to check the recruitment agencies and the labour inspection mechanisms should be given sensitisation regarding child labour. Furthermore, there is an urgent need of enforcement of policies that are formulated for the protection of children. And at the same time, right economic assistance should be given to labourers so that they do not force their children to sustain their families and make the best efforts to send their children to school.
ARTICLE BY – BHAVYA BAHL (SYMBIOSIS LAW SCHOOL, NOIDA) HRDI THINK INDIA WORK FROM INTERNSHIP.
 C. Annie Jane, “A Study on The Internal Migrant Labour Issues and Policies”, 6 IJAR 82 (2016).
 2005 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, India, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/48d748f237.html (Last accessed on June 10, 2020).
 Set up under the juvenile justice law, child welfare committees are in need of saving themselves, India, available at: https://scroll.in/article/826978/set-up-under-the-juvenile-justice-law-child-welfare-committees-are-in-need-of-saving-themselves (Last accessed on June 10, 2020).
 Ajai Sreevatsan, “Covid-19 lockdown impact: Unemployment rate rises to 23.4%”, Livemint, Apr. 7, 2020.
 Statistics of Child Labour in India State Wise, India, available at: https://www.savethechildren.in/articles/statistics-of-child-labour-in-india-state-wise (Visited on June 10, 2020).