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Pandemic Increased Child Labour, What Does This Mean For Universal Education?

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

I have been working in the development sector for a long time. I used to go to villages quite often because of my job profile. During the lockdown, I was working from home. Due to this reason, I could not visit the villages which I used to, to interact with the people from the local communities.

Finally, I was able to visit the countryside after the lockdown restrictions were lifted. As I entered a village, I saw a boy of school-going age selling vegetables with his father.

Many children are employed as child labourers and therefore, exploited, in the agricultural sector. Representational image.

Importance Of Education

I asked him about his son’s education. He replied,“School toh chal nahi rahe, kam se kam ghar toh chale (school is not functional so I am focusing on running my household).” I stood silently for a long time and many thoughts started popping up in my mind.

I was terrified to think of just how many school-going children are forced to turn away from education, like this boy.

Education helps one bring about a positive change in the socioeconomic life of a people. Education helps one draw a road map of towards individual development as well as the development of one’s family, village, nation and the global community.

Keeping this in mind, many intellectuals devoted their entire life to lighting the lamp of education among the oppressed sections of the society. We can’t forget the contribution of women leaders like Savitribai Phule and Fatima Sheikh, who devoted their entire lives to establish the importance of education.

Education As An SDG

The inclusion of education as an important goal in the total framework of sustainable development goals (SDG) 2030 is a commendable step. SDG 4 ensures inclusive and equitable education. It promotes providing everyone with learning opportunities lifelong.

SDG 4 emphasizes free and quality education for girls and boys, at the primary and secondary level, by 2030. The pandemic has significantly affected the agenda of the SDGs across the world. Most educational institutions, including Indian ones, remained shut to prevent the spread of the virus.

Gradually, the number of children dropping out of the formal education system increased. We were already struggling with the issue of dropout to begin with. However, after Covid -19 hit, the situation became worse than ever.

According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), children aged 6-10 have acutely dropped out of school due to the pandemic. ASER indicated that in 2020, around 5.3% of children were out of school.

It also raises concerns around the online mode of education, because of limited access to smartphones and internet connectivity for people living below the poverty line.

Increasing job loss and salary cuts were also major reasons that affected education. If we analyze the current situation with a gender lens, it reveals a deep-rooted gender disparity with respect to digital access.

A common misconception about girls using smartphones is that they will use it to elope with someone.

Disheartening Report On Child Labour

A recent report released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is a wake-up call, not just for India, but for the entire world. The findings provide glimpses into the dangerous future that lies ahead for children.

They released a report on the status of child labour worldwide. According to the findings, for the first time in two decades, there has been a significant rise in the number of children aged 5-11, engaged in child labour.

The report also points out that at the beginning of 2020, 16 crore children were being exploited as child labourers, but the number has risen in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The report reveals that if the minimum estimates of poverty increase, then 90 lakh children would be trapped as child labourers. In the villages, one can see children under the age of 18 engaging in child labour, to assist their families.

The fact that many children are working in the agriculture sector, is a huge concern for the global community.

Solutions Ought To Be Intersectional

The ILO and the UNICEF’s report raises serious questions the need to be taken into account for the achieving of SDG 4. The pandemic has already created a chasm between education and children. It has forced the global community to take note of the bigger picture.

student class
Online education has increased the gender gap in education as girls don’t have equal access to smartphones and the Internet. Representational image.

There is a strong need to come up with multiple, prompt solutions to cope with this situation. On the one hand, we have to deal with pandemic. On the other hand, we have to ensure the social security of every child is inviolable. We can’t see this situation in isolation because it is an intersectional issue.

A country must dream of a future where child has books in their hand, and not the burden of child labour on their small shoulders. Only then can we provide wings to the flight of the SDG.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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