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Growth of Child Labor and Malnourishment Rate in India due to COVID-19 crisis

Due to the pandemic, things have gone erratic economically, socially and mentally. In such a situation, the most vulnerable groups are disabled, marginalised sections and tribal.

By Drishti Mrigwani
Published on :

It’s been six months and we are still struggling with coronavirus. In these past six months, many fractured aspects of our country have come to the fore such as slow pace of the economy before the COVID crisis which only stand aggravated during the lockdown, neglected Health Care infrastructure, arduous journey of migrants and devastation caused by cyclone & flood in many states; all of these have highlighted our lack of preparedness in fighting these disasters. The pandemic has been disastrous for every nation which is evident since even the developed nations still haven’t been able to come out of it. Understandably so developing countries are going through an unprecedented worse phase.

Due to the pandemic, things have gone erratic economically, socially and mentally. In such a situation, the most vulnerable groups are disabled, marginalised sections and tribal. For such sections access to livelihood has become challenging. And amidst these vulnerable sections, women and adolescents have borne the worse off brunt. As per WHO data, around 20 per cent rise in poverty is to be expected by 2020 across the world. Around 55 per cent of the population lives without any social protection. However, this data is a global reflection; for a developing country like India where 90 per cent of the workforce is in an unorganized sector with an unprecedented economic drop-off, India is staring at long term detrimental implications even after the situation improves post covid. One of the setbacks will be adolescents being pushed into child labor. When a family goes through financial issues and is unable to meet its basic needs, one of the primary cut offs are in school & tuition fees that results in discontinuation of education. Adolescents, especially boys between 6-17 years are forced to earn money for survival. In extreme cases under-aged girls are married off or sold for money. Children are forced to work in hazardous conditions and are exploited for minimum wages and maximum working hours. The decades of effort to bring children out of hazardous working conditions will go down the drain in just one year due to the pandemic.

How migrants are affected in grim reality?

Along with the surge in unemployment, daily wage payment has also declined. Due to slowdown in government development schemes on account of COVID many migrants who have returned to their hometowns are finding it difficult to secure employment. The same can be observed from Government data for the month of April 2020 wherein it has been observed that a mere 30 Lakhs workers found work under MNREGA, a staggering drop of 82 percent month on month basis where in April 2019, 1.7 Crore workers had found work under the scheme. As per the report ‘Effects of Covid 19 on migrant households in Bihar’, it was observed that more than 50 percent of migrants have lost their income. They do not have means of survival even for a month. After a limited workforce in manufacturing and with the production being all-time low, the major demand in the market for essentials will not bring any relief for them. In such time, children are the cheaper workforce for the industry to save on manpower expenses.

It is predicted that demand for child labor will rise. India is home to the world’s largest child labor. As per the census report of 2011, the total child workers in India are 10.1 million out of which 5.6 million are boys and the remaining 4.5 million are girls. Among states Uttar Pradesh is leading the case, followed by Bihar. People working in unorganized sectors are affected due to lack of security in such jobs. The overall unemployment rate has risen to 27.1 per cent in early May and around 50 lakhs job loss in July,2020 only.

Schools have remained closed since March. With limited access to internet and smartphones, the scope to learn or return to the school is hampered for underprivileged students. With parents being uneducated, home tuition is not an alternative. Even after the crisis when situation is likely to improve, chances of children returning to the classroom are rare, because in the meantime they have already developed a survival skill (being a child labor).

Impact on the nutrition needs

Currently, there are around 115 million children that rely on their ‘one meal’ a day on mid-day meals. It is one of the biggest dietary state welfare initiatives under the National Health Mission policy. Due to the pandemic since schools are shut the program stands halted. Several state governments have tried to provide raw ration to their ICDS families with Take-Home Ration or money. During these critical times, providing food security and nutrition becomes very critical. As per 2017 UNICEF report, 69 per cent of children below the age group of five die in India due to malnourishment alone. And every second woman is anaemic. Pregnant women and lactating mothers also suffer for the same. As lack of adequate nutrition has a direct impact on the newborns, babies resulting in higher mortality rate. UNICEF in its report published in May 2020, stated that a staggering, 1.2 million additional children under five could die in next six months in low and middle-income countries due to reduction in routine health services coverage and increase in child wasting. Of this, India alone is estimated to account for 3,00,000 mortalities.

There are several initiatives under National Health Mission policy such as Poshan Abhiyan, Anemia Mukt Bharat, Integrated Child Development, Mid-day meal etc. but in the current crisis implementation of schemes has been severely impacted. This gap will further contribute to negligence for the targeted beneficiaries. At this rate, due to pandemic, the goal of ending all forms of malnutrition, stunting and wasting in children below 5 years seems far-fetched to achieve by 2025.

A significant government intervention is pivotal to ward off undernutrition. A strong immunity system will help to be less susceptible to counter the diseases.  A strong welfare program during the crisis is the only means to stop children from entering the hazardous workforce and getting vulnerable to malnutrition or poor health. Further, an increasing government spending on employment generation schemes to ensure minimum employment and earning to the vulnerable section is the need of the hour.

Views expressed above are author’s own.

Drishti Mrigwani is an independent researcher, worked on development and environment issues for Storyteller, Greenpeace and BBC India. She has done post graduation in Media-Governance from Jamia University.


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