Child Labour: An Illegal Open Secret
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Author : Nabeela Naeem
Child labour is a phenomenon that has increased rapidly in the past few years. COVID is the main reason for its recent increase. Not only does it affect the child’s physical well-being, but it also puts his/her mental well-being at risk.

Child labour is a phenomenon that has increased rapidly in the past few years. COVID is the main reason for its recent increase. Not only does it affect the child’s physical well-being, but it also puts his/her mental well-being at risk.

With necks & shoulders hunched over for long periods of time, their eyes squinting against the sunlight, and their bodies being further weakened by malnutrition, kids are the invisible victims of COVID and its digital divide. Here are some real-life stories of how small children are made to do child labour forcefully or due to helplessness:

Jaipur: Due to COVID, schools and even local tuitions were closed, leaving the children with no option than staying at home all day. This seemed to be a waste of time for the parents for obvious reasons, which led them to push their children to contribute to family expenses. In a bangle factory, there were two rooms, 4 feet by 4 feet. It had no windows, fans that do not work & walls with smelly paan stains. Nineteen children were made to sit without masks or any protective protocol. Every child sits bent over sticking bits of glitter & glass on lac bangles, making 400 – 500 bangles per day. Each bangle fetches between ₹10 – ₹50 in the market across Rajasthan. The children work 16 – 18 hours every day for merely ₹50 which is way below the minimum wage per day in Rajasthan (₹252).

Jharkand: We’ll peek into Jharkhand’s mica mines where child labour & illegal mining are no secret.

For generations, families living in the Koderma and Giridih districts of Jharkhand have survived on the collection and trade of mica — a shimmery, translucent mineral used in cosmetics and automobiles. The mining of mica was once a legal, thriving business that made India the biggest exporter of the mineral. But concerns about mining causing environmental damage led to the passage of the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, which bars non-forest activities, such as mining, from taking place in forested areas without clearances from the central government. Corporations have been replaced by unlicensed middlemen, and labourers scavenge for mica in largely abandoned mines, or dig holes into the earth for scraps. These scraps, known as ‘dhibra’, are sold for anything between Rs 3 and Rs 15 per kilo. For families that mine together, more hands mean more money, and parents often take their children along.
“I would go to school but the master (teacher) hasn’t come in months. I don’t know where this mica goes, but I’ve learned how to collect it,” 12-year-old Dhanashree told ThePrint as she squatted to collect ‘dhibra’.

A 2021 UNICEF and ILO report warns that globally, 9 million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic. A simulation model shows this number could rise to 46 million if they don’t have access to critical social protection coverage. Child labour can result in extreme bodily and mental harm, and even death. It can lead to slavery and sexual or economic exploitation. And in nearly every case, it cuts children off from schooling and health care, restricting their fundamental rights and threatening their futures.

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