01, Dec 2022 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
A significant proportion of children in India – especially in the rural regions – are engaged in child labour. A staggering number of kids – girls and boys – who should be in school are working 10-12 hours a day, from factories producing hazardous waste to cleaning toilets and dirty dishes in restaurants and hotels. More recently, the closure of schools and the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic, have been pushing children into poverty, and thus, putting India at risk of growing child labour post-Covid especially in low-income states like Bihar, UP, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand.
According to census 2011, 3.9% children in India work daily, which is a staggering 10.1 million children. This number has only seemed to drastically increase over the past few years. A report by the NGOs ActionAid Association and Slum Mahila Sanghatane titled ‘Without food, without jobs and without education’ highlights the post-pandemic challenges faced in accessing education amid a struggle to survive. The report was released on April 19th 2022. It states that there is a drastic increase in the number of children who have turned to child labour for survival amidst lockdown.
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Mohammad Shahidullah, an educationist from Birbhum, has been working hard – campaigning from village to village, to bring awareness and education to children in rural Bengal. He says, “ in the recent past, schools and colleges were closed due to lockdown for a long time. Before the lockdown, the attendance rate of children in schools and colleges was tad higher. But after the lockdown, the attendance rate of children in schools has decreased. After the lockdown, children are not going to school properly. Many have their names on paper but go to school one or two days a month. Many kids are not going to school at all. They are doing menial jobs making 50-100 rupees a day. That’s why we are trying to convince parents to send their children to school and continuing with our efforts to end child labour.”
He continues to narrate incidents of real people, “Sixth standard student Imam Sheikh’s father had died a year ago. His mother has to struggle a lot to look after the family. So, even though he tries to study, he’s been working on the field. At the end of the day, he returns home making a little money. His mother cannot afford the cost of his education so he defends his work. It’s true, no one helps a poor family. They don’t know what children’s day is. The concept of adversities related to child labour is fairly unknown. His mother’s smiling face when she gets the money is more important to kids like Imam. His family barely had one meal to eat during the lockdown.”
Ultimately, poverty, social norms condoning them, lack of decent work opportunities for adults and adolescents, migration and local school authorities’ failure to bring in awareness about education, are the main reasons due to which child labour is on the rise. Currently, people in rural Bengal face extreme difficulties because of the change in economy, job opportunities. It is becoming almost impossible to run one’s home with the income of a single person in the family. Some parents, living below the poverty line, are forcing their children into labour. Economically backwards kids are being criminally deprived of education despite their efforts to learn and grow. Both the central and state governments are to be blamed for a faulty educational system and lack of opportunities for economically backward families with children.
This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by aspiring journalist and student activist Ripon Sheikh from Birbhum in West Bengal. In these reports Ripon looks at the people around him – migrant workers, the families they leave behind, agricultural labourers, women who do housework, rural artisans and young people, with a keen sense of compassion.
Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.