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12 Apr 2020

Niharika Chopra, Outlook India

India: COVID-19 may lead to rise in bonded labour and human trafficking

"The Cost Of COVID-19 Lockdown: Rise In Bonded Labour And Human Trafficking In India", 13 April 2020

As most parts of India seek a seamless supply of essential goods in the midst of the countrywide lockdown to fight COVID-19, the central question that assumes importance is – what are the conditions under which the labour force is meeting the demand of mass production and delivery at low costs?

The huge number – over 39 crore – of unorganised and migrant workers on the fringes or outside the socio-economic security umbrella, are the most vulnerable. This makes them the easiest target for the organised crime network of human trafficking. Deprivation and hunger await them before and after they reach their villages across several states. They will be forced into debt and predatory interest rates even for their daily subsistence. This will trigger decades of inter-generational bondage and wage-less labour. Hundreds of thousands of children will be enslaved.

Once the lockdown is lifted and normal manufacturing activity resumes, factory owners will look to cover their financial losses by employing cheap labour. Increasingly, desperate and vulnerable populations of unorganised workers, who are in no position to negotiate wages or their rights, will be a massive pool for cheap labour...

A large number of these labourers will be children, forced out of school, bearing the burden of sustaining their families. Thousands of children will likely be trafficked across the country to work in manufacturing units where they will be paid meagre to no wages and will most likely face extreme physical, mental and sexual violence...