Oct 26, 2020
Before COVID-19 hit, tens of millions of children already worked in India’s garment, jewelry, fireworks, tobacco and other factories, in car workshops, on constructions sites and farms. Many had been trafficked into India’s cities from far-off villages. Today, that number has swelled enormously.
Most of India’s child laborers had been sent to work because their families could not afford to raise them, often even to feed them. Then hundreds of millions of India’s poorest workers lost their income when India shut down because of COVID-19.
On top of that, a government-run network of more than a million early childhood centers were closed. These centers provided the only consistent sources of food, clothing, and immunizations for many poor children.
Hundreds of millions of families were faced with added mouths to feed, right as their income dried up. The exploitation of children increased as many sent their children into dumps to comb through garbage, often barefoot and without gloves. Girls were married off to older men, often from villages far away, by the tens of thousands.
Now, when recruiters come back to the villages looking for workers, they want only the cheapest labor: children. According to Dhananjay Tingal, director of a non-profit that fights child labor, “After lockdown the traffickers refused to hire the adults for work. They told the families they would only hire the children, so the families felt they had no choice.” For work days that often stretch twelve hours, the average wage for these trafficked children comes to about 50 cents a day—just enough to buy food.
Whatever laws are on the books against child labor, bosses will do whatever they can to get the cheapest labor possible. They will take advantage of hunger and desperation to drive tens of millions of children into sweatshops and brothels, for profit. For these bosses, the pandemic has been an opportunity.
This capitalist system that condemns millions of children to scrounge in trash heaps deserves to be thrown in a trash heap itself.