Nine illegally employed child laborers were rescued from a garment factory in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh following a tip-off to the police, authorities said Wednesday.
Some of the children had been working at the unnamed facility for the past six months and others a year in the city of Noida, an official for the Gautam Buddh Nagar police’s Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) told the Press Trust of India.
The six girls and three boys, who hailed from different parts of Uttar Pradesh and the eastern state of Bihar, were examined by a doctor, then admitted to a shelter home in accordance with regulations. Indian law prohibits anyone younger than 14 years from working in a factory or mine or otherwise engaging with any hazardous equipment.
The factory owner has insisted, however, that two of the children are over the age of 18, submitting evidence to corroborate his account, the Press Trust of India said. Those claims are currently being verified, an official told the outlet.
The International Labour Organization and UNICEF estimated in 2021 that the number of children involved in child labor has risen to 160 million worldwide, a surge of 8.4 million over the past four years. The fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic has left millions more vulnerable, they said.
The number of countries in the “extreme risk” category of Verisk Maplecroft’s Child Labour Index, which measures the risk to business from association with child employment, has likewise grown, spiking from 25 in 2017 to 30 today.
While the risk-assessment firm has labeled India as “high” rather than “extreme” risk overall, it notes that the frequency and severity of the country’s violations fall under the “extreme” heading, with apparel a particular hotspot. India may have signed the relevant international treaties, Verisk Maplecroft said, but its enforcement capabilities lack the necessary resources and coverage. South Asia’s largest economy also falls short of the minimum age threshold set by the ILO, which is 15.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Bureau of International Labor Affairs also credited India with making only “moderate” improvement in its 2021 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor report. Though the government made “meaningful efforts” in all relevant areas during the reporting period, it did not publicly release information on its labor or criminal law enforcement efforts.
Children in India, it said, are subjected to the “worst forms” of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes through human trafficking. They also perform “dangerous tasks” in garment production, stone quarrying and brickmaking.
“Hazardous work prohibitions do not include all occupations in which children work for long periods in unsafe and unhealthy environments, and penalties for employing children are insufficient to deter violations,” the report said. “There are also serious concerns about widespread corruption among police and other government officials related to the enforcement of child labor crimes, actively impeding the investigation and prosecution of such offenses, and mistreating victims.”
Garments produced in India also made it to the DOL’s 2022 list of goods produced by child and forced labor.
India’s textile and apparel industry employs more than 45 million people in farming and manufacturing. Its exports, roughly 22 percent of the sector, have fallen steadily over the past few months because of inflationary pressures and collapsing purchasing power. In November, they fell by a combined 15.6 percent over the previous year to $2.6 billion, according to Ministry of Commerce data. From April to November, textile and apparel exports clocked a year-over-year decline of 11 percent to reach $23 billion.