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  • Writer's pictureMelo Acuna

Child labourers rise, triggered by COVID-19 pandemic

Child labor surges to 160 million, a first in 20 years

MANILA – Some 8.4 million children has joined millions of child laborers during the last four years. According to a new report by the International Labour Organization and UNICEF, millions more are at risk because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report entitled “Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward,” released before the World Day Against Child Labour on June 12, disclosed that achievements to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 209 years and reversed the previous downward trend that saw child labor fall by some 94 million between 2000 and 2016.

“The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. He added inclusive social protection allows families to keep their children in school even in the face of economic hardship,

“Increased investment in rural development and decent work in agriculture is essential. We are at a pivotal moment ad much depends on how we respond. This is a time for renewed commitment and energy, to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labour,” he added.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty, and inadequate social protection measures have led to an additional 16.6 million children in child labour over the past four years, the ILO statement revealed.

Even in regions where there has been some headway since 2016, such as Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, COVID-19 is stifling that progress.

The report warns that globally, nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labor by the end of 2022 due to the pandemic. A simulation model shows this number could rise to 46 million if they don’t have access to critical social protection coverage.

They also saw additional shocks and school closures due to COVID-19 mean that children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while many more may be forced into the worst forms of child labour due to job and income losses among vulnerable families.

“We are losing ground in the fight against child labor, and the last year has not made that fight easier,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. She said into the second year of lockdowns, school closures, economic disruptions, and shrinking national budgets, families are forced to making difficult choices.

“We urge government and international development banks to prioritize investments in programmes that can get children out of the workforce and back into school, and in social protection programmes that can help families avoid making this choice in the first place,” she added.

It was learned agriculture sector accounts for 70 per cent of children in child labour (112 million) followed by 20 per cent in services (31.4 million) and 10 per cent in industry (16.5 million).

Nearly 28 per cent of children aged 5 to 11 years and 35 per cent of children aged 12 to 14 years in child labour are out of school.

The study revealed child labour is more prevalent among boys than girls at every age. When household chores performed for 21 hours or more each week are taken into account, the gender gap in child labour narrows.

They also found the prevalence of child labour in rural areas (14 per cent) is close to three times higher than in urban areas (5 per cent).

The report underscored that children in child labour are at risk of physical and mental harm as child labour compromises children education, restricting their rights and limiting their future opportunities. It also leads to vicious inter-generational cycles of poverty and child labour.

The ILO and UNICEF said to reverse the upward trend in child labour, governments should have adequate social protection for all, including universal child benefits. They also suggested an increase spending on free and good-quality schooling and getting all children back into school, including children who were out of school even prior to COVID-19.

They called on governments to promote decent work for adults for families not to resort to children helping generate family income. There should also be an end to harmful gender norms and discrimination that influence child labour as well as investment in child protection systems, agricultural development, rural public services, infrastructure and livelihoods.

Part of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, the global partnership Alliance 8.7, of which UNICEF and ILO are partners, it is encouraging member States, business, trade unions, civil society, and regional and international organizations to redouble their efforts in the global fight against child labour by making concrete action pledges.

From June 10 – 17, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore will take part as in discussions with other high-level speakers and your advocates at a high-level event during the International Labour Organization Conference to discuss the release of the new global estimates and the roadmap ahead. (Melo M. Acuña)

COVID-19 has seriously affected children. These are common sights in the country's National Capital Region. (Photos/Melo M. Acuna)

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