The ongoing pandemic has exacerbated the existing causes of child labour, as well as added new ones.
First, children are forced to work because family incomes are not enough to survive on. With many people losing their jobs due to COVID-19, the financial crises being faced by families has increased manifold. These families will need extra pairs of hands to earn to provide two meals a day, leading to more children entering the economy or working on family-owned enterprises and farms.
Second, children are considered cheap labour, and with businesses and enterprises facing massive financial losses, the demand for cheap labour is going to increase. Due to reverse migration from urban centres, there is also going to be a shortage of adult labour. Children, especially adolescents, will be increasingly in demand to fill this gap.
Third, the pressure on children staying at home, especially girls, will be to contribute to household chores and sibling care. More and more girls will be pulled further away from education and into managing the household.
Fourth, with every livelihood crisis, the risk of trafficking increases. In India, a large number of children are already trafficked for labour. Due to reverse migration caused by the pandemic, a large number of children have returned to their villages.
And given the livelihoods crisis already underway in rural areas, the children who are not tracked will become more vulnerable to trafficking. Children in overcrowded relief camps, quarantine centres, and those returning home with their parents are also at increased risk of being trafficked.
Fifth, the closure of schools will lead to a gradual detachment from education, especially for those children who cannot access online education. This detachment will eventually lead to dropouts among children, which in turn will lead to them entering the workforce.