Child labor figure rises to 160 million, as COVID-19 puts many more at risk

June 10, 2021
Children work at a mine in South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in this courtesy file photo
Children work at a mine in South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in this courtesy file photo

NEW YORK — For the first time in two decades, the number of children being put to work has risen — to 160 million worldwide, representing an increase of 8.4 million over four years – while millions of other are at risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new UN report launched on Thursday.

The report, Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward, published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), urges governments and international development banks, said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, “to prioritize investments in programs that can get children out of the workforce and back into school”.

Tackle root causes

She also called for better social protection programs “that can help families avoid making this choice in the first place”.

Released ahead of World Day Against Child Labour on 12th June, the report warns that progress to end child labor has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw the number put to work fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016.

It points to a significant rise of children working between the ages of 5 and 11, which accounts for just over half of the total global figure.

And those between five and 17 in hazardous work, which is likely to harm their health, safety or moral well-being, has risen by 6.5 million since 2016, to 79 million.

“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.

COVID-19 impact

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 labor over the past four years, according to the report.

And COVID-19 is endangering progress made in Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean regions.

The report warns that globally, nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labor by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic, which could rise to 46 million without access to critical social protection coverage.

“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”, Mr. Ryder explained. 

Additional economic shocks and school closures caused by COVID-19 mean that children already obliged or forced to work, maybe working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while job and income losses among vulnerable families may push many more into the worst forms of child labor. — UN news

June 10, 2021
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