Pandemic pushed back efforts in ending child labour: study


A survey across 20 districts on the impact of COVID-19 on children found a rise in child marriages and mobile phone addiction

A study on the impact of COVID-19 on children across Karnataka revealed there has been an uptick in child marriages. During the same period, there was also a rise in children either engaged in agricultural labour or helping their parents at work. These were some of the key findings of a study conducted by the Karnataka Child Rights Observatory (KCRO), which collated responses of focus group discussions across 20 districts — two villages in each district. It also found that supply of supplementary nutrition food, midday meals, and immunisation programmes were largely successful.

The authors noted that while focus groups with adults were not forthcoming on incidents of child marriages, groups of adolescents did report an uptick in these incidents. Of the total respondents, 43% reported an increase in such incidents. In fact, the Government of Karnataka had itself acknowledged, in February 2021, a rise in instances of child marriages during the pandemic.

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The same pattern of responses were seen on the question of child labour as well: while the adults denied it, focus groups of adolescents reported a rise. “It seems the pandemic has pushed back most efforts made in ending child labour,” the authors said.

Children interviewed reported that they were both taken to fields for agricultural work and also made to work for wages. They also felt if the schools were open and classes were on, this would not have happened.

Though the pandemic saw e-learning become the norm, only 30% of the respondents said children were engaged in online classes. It is found that a large number of children especially from rural and urban poor families missed online classes. It found that the COVID-19 lockdown and closure of schools also resulted in declining interests in academic pursuits, which the authors said, may lead to children dropping out.

However, 70% of the respondents said children were engaged in playing, watching television, playing online games, and helping parents at work. The report noted that a large number of children have become addicted to mobile phones and other devices

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Although most focus groups were happy with the supply of nutritious food during the pandemic, the report said the Government needed to address existing gaps.

Mahantesh Kavatagimath asked most questions on children

The Karnataka Legislative Council performed slightly better than the Legislative Assembly in discussing child-related issues. Around 5.03% of the questions asked in the Council were related to children, in contrast to the 4.57% of questions in the Assembly, according to the study.

Among both the Houses, Mahantesh Kavatagimath, MLC, asked the most number of questions related to children, at 36. MLCs N. Ravikumar, U.B. Venkatesh, K.A. Thippeswamy, and R. Dharmasena, and MLAs N.A. Harris, Sowmya Reddy, H.D. Revanna, and Anjali Nimbalkar were among the others who raised questions on child welfare and related subjects.

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Sagar Biswas

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