NISHAD was among a group of children rescued by the police after a tip-off from child rights activists in Jaipur. The 12-year-old was kept locked up in a dingy room and forced to work in a bangle factory for 15 hours daily under gruelling conditions. He was not even allowed to step out or contact his family. Nishad’s parents were given ₹1,500 before he was taken from his village in Bihar just before the lockdown in March 2020.
In another incident, 19 boys were being taken from their village in Bihar in a private bus to Rajasthan. Among them were 14-year-old Mujeeb and his friends who were lured by a man in their village with a mere ₹500 rupees to go to Jaipur. Fortunately, the bus was intercepted by Jaipur police as it entered the city and the children were rescued.
In both cases, the traffickers and their accomplices were arrested and charged under India’s child trafficking laws. Jaipur’s bangle factories use children as cheap labour, making the city a hub of child trafficking.
As the pandemic continues to disrupt lives and livelihoods in India, child labour, abuse and trafficking have been on the rise.
Child trafficking amidst COVID-19
Child trafficking is the act of luring, forcing or persuading children out of their homes for forced labour, prostitution or other forms of exploitation. Children in extremely poor families are at high risk. At times the children are tricked with false promises of income for their family or a better life and taken away without their parent’s knowledge, like in the case of Mujeeb.
Other times, poor and desperate parents are compelled to send their children away to work for the sake of the family’s survival. The pandemic has deepened India’s massive wealth inequality pushing the poorest to the edge. Since its onset in March 2020, the country’s economy has been hard hit. Millions in urban and rural India have lost their jobs and many have little choice but to depend on their children to work and bring in anything they can.
Most of the trafficked children come from economically poor rural regions of Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam. In India’s remote villages and urban poor areas, hunger has become a bigger threat than the coronavirus. Acute poverty, the opening of state borders post lockdowns and the spike in demand for workers have created the perfect environment for the flagrant disregard for child rights and for traffickers to exploit children.
Though legally children above the age of 14 are not allowed to work outside family-related businesses in harmful environments, many industries use child labourers below 18 years of age. Children are heavily employed in agriculture, domestic work, construction industry, carpet factories, garment industry, etc. Many are also forcibly involved in illegal activities such as begging, prostitution, and drug peddling.
Living through a tragedy
According to the International Labour Organization, around 12.9 million Indian children in the 7-17 age group are employed or doing unpaid work. These girls and boys are toiling daily in quarries and factories, or begging or selling on the streets.
Child trafficking was already a major problem in India but has now been exacerbated because of COVID-19. Vulnerable children are the worst affected and victims of this health crisis. Thousands are left to cope with the trauma of losing one or both parents to the virus.
According to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, so far over 30,000 children have been orphaned, lost a parent or abandoned due to COVID-19. The mounting deaths have had the severest emotional impact on children, depriving them of a hug, the gentle touch and many a time, the guiding hand of the only parent they had.
The surge is resulting in dire consequences and reducing access to basic health, education and social protection. Many of these orphaned children are now being abandoned or forced to work because of poverty and face an even greater risk of abuse and trafficking.
Today, on World Day Against Child Labour, we laud these NGOs combatting child labour and trafficking, and restoring childhoods.
India’s leading independent child rights NGO, Save The Children works across 19 states and has changed the lives of over 10 million Indian children. It works to empower the most marginalised communities in both urban areas and its remotest corners.
Save The Children provides quality education and healthcare, protection from harm and abuse and life-saving aid during emergencies to children. It also engages with the government to drive policy change in the interests of children. The NGO also works to improve the situation of children in more than 80 countries.
Since 1989, the Salaam Baalak Trust has helped thousands of children come off the streets and into a safe and nurturing environment. Today, the Trust provides an integrated safety net of services to street children in Mumbai, from physical and medical needs to their education, social and vocational needs.
Their objective is the holistic development of the children to become responsible, contributing members of society. Salaam Baalak Trust was born with a portion of the proceeds from the film Salaam Bombay! by Mira Nair. The Trust began its work with an aim to give street children choices and a chance to experience the joys of childhood.
This NGO is dedicated to providing an environment where all children are educated, healthy, protected and valued. Their programmes focus on ensuring access to nutrition, healthcare, water and sanitation, quality education and livelihood for the sustained well-being of children by building communities that are safe and fit for vulnerable minors.
It is the largest grassroots child-focused organisation with more than 2,000 dedicated staff working in over 6,252 communities and touching the lives of a little over 26,00,000 children and their families.
Working towards the holistic development of children from vulnerable families, orphan children and women, since its inception in India SOS Children’s Villages have been advocating child rights.
By providing a home-like environment and long-term support to every child up to the age of 24, its members are committed to the welfare of orphaned and abandoned children against social neglect. They have reached out to over 25,000 children across 22 states and 32 locations in India.
Established in 1952, DCCW originally started to care for children who were displaced, lost or abandoned in the riots surrounding the Partition of India.
Over the decades, their programmes have diversified to cover medical services, nutrition, vocational training, adoption, rehabilitation of physically and mentally challenged children through the provision of daycare and non-formal education. Today, their services reach about 2500 children daily and are provided virtually free of cost to them.
Established in 2000, GiveIndia is India’s most trusted giving platform for donors. Our community of 1.5M+ donors and 150+ corporate partners have supported 2,000 nonprofits, impacting 10M+ lives across India.
Samar is a Marketing Communications specialist and freelance writer. She has a master’s in marketing and creativity from ESCP Business School. She is an avid traveler and likes to write about technology, travel, wildlife and sustainability.