Globally, before the COVID-19 pandemic, one in ten children was subject to child labour. Now, for the first time in 20 years, this figure is increasing as the pandemic threatens to undo decades of progress. To prevent this, we must act together and decisively!
The pandemic has created unparalleled and extreme effects on the mental and physical well-being of children. The world has witnessed the longest duration of school closures in our lifetime affecting both learning outcomes for children as well as their access to school meals and safe spaces which also contributed to their physical and mental well-being.
According to UNICEF, globally, more than 1.5 billion children saw their schooling suspended because of Covid-19-related restrictions. Without a classroom to go to, rises in poverty are likely to push children from low income families to work..
6.5 million more children working in hazardous work
The term child labour describes the work that robs children of their childhood and their potential, hampering their growth and development. According to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF, the number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years – with millions more at risk due to the impacts of COVID-19.
Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward – released ahead of World Day Against Child Labour on 12th June – reveals a significant rise in the number of children aged 5 to 11 years in child labour, who now account for over half of the total global figure. The number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work – defined as work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals – has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016.
Children are driven into work for various reasons, most often, it occurs when the families fall into abject poverty, experience income insecurity, emergencies, displacement, human trafficking, conflict, and extreme weather events. Some of the sectors most likely to rely on child labour include agriculture, mining, manufacturing, industries, tourism, and construction.
Support disadvantaged families
Aide et Action’s recent study in India on the impact of COVID-19 on migrant children revealed a twofold increase in the number of children who accompanied their working parents to the brick-making industry after the first wave COVID pandemic. The traditional brick kiln industries often utilize child labour for some of its work. To counter this, we are working with children living in brick-making sites to provide education and care to end child labour. During the pandemic, Aide et Action assisted thousands of migrant workers and their families to travel safely to their native villages and reintegrate them into government health support and social protection schemes.
A real risk of aggravation
While the United Nations has declared 2021 as the international year for the elimination of child labour and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 7 & 8 challenge the world to eradicate forced labour, modern slavery, and the child labour in all its forms by 20205, the current crisis makes this unlikely.
It will be a herculean task for policy makers and planners to devise an effective strategy to contain child labour in the face of mounting poverty and hunger. The elimination of child labour needs holistic and varied approaches. A one-size-fits-all approach will fail to address the issues of poor and excluded communities. Every government and non-government action for the elimination of child labour should be effectively reinforced with national child rights policies, stricter law enforcement, quality social protection, and strengthening the school ecosystem.