Closed classrooms sow seeds of child labour

Schools across the state have been closed since March and there is no clarity on when they will reopen. This could grow seeds of child labour among slum dwellers, warns an activist.

11-year-old Kunal Mali, a resident of Mankhurd, is a Standard 6 student in a civic school in his vicinity. These days, instead of attending classes online, he is usually seen sitting with his father at a local market. His father sells vegetables while his brothers and he sell masks.

His father, who lost his job amidst the lockdown, is now forced to sell vegetables on the streets to make ends meet. When asked why his son is selling masks instead of attending online classes he said, "We don't have access to a computer or a mobile. As there is no school, the kids loiter around in the area all day. Our area is not good. So instead of roaming around, he sits beside me and sells masks.”

Kunal is not alone. Many of his age group could be found helping their parents in the slums of Dharavi, Mankhurd, Govandi and Malwani. "The law says that, if children are helping their parents after school, then it's not child labour. However, if children help their parents without attending school, then it's a child labour," said Navnath Kamble, program head of Pratham, an NGO that works for the education of children living in slums.

As per the survey conducted by the state Education Department in June, 12.51% students in Mumbai do not have a mobile phone and 3.58% do not have access to television, radio or mobile phone. "It's true that the current situation is due to the pandemic. However, the trend is worrying. This could lead children away from the education system. Their interest in education could also decrease. To develop the same in the future could become a mammoth task at least for slums dwellers. Access to money at such early days could also become a problem, he added.

"Many parents in slums send their children to school because of the mid-day meals provided there. As there are no schools, there is no question of meals being provided to them. Such parents, who send their kids for one time meal to school, will not be able to afford online teaching," explains Deepak Paradkar, who works for Ajivika Bureau, another NGO that works for child labour.

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Free Press Journal