A new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Children is Fund (UNICEF), has revealed that millions of children risk being-pushed into child labour because of the COVID-19 crisis, which could lead to the first rise in child labour after 20 years of progress.
According to the report, children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions adding that more of them may be forced into the worst forms of labour, which causes significant harm to their health and safety.
The ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder while commenting on the development said that Social protection is vital in times of crisis, as it provides assistance to those who are most vulnerable.
“As the pandemic wreaks havoc on family incomes, without support, many could resort to child labour. Social protection is vital in times of crisis, as it provides assistance to those who are most vulnerable.
‘’Integrating child labour concerns across broader policies for education, social protection, justice, labour markets, and international human and labour rights makes a critical difference’’, Ryder.
The report further disclosed that COVID-19 could result in a rise in poverty and therefore to an increase in child labour as households use every available means to survive. Some studies show that a one-percentage point rise in poverty leads to at least a 0.7 per cent increase in child labour in certain countries.
Also, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore stressed the need to make sure that children and their families have the tools they need to weather similar storms in the future.
“In times of crisis, child labour becomes a coping mechanism for many families. “As poverty rises, schools close and the availability of social services decreases, more children are pushed into the workforce.
As we re-imagine the world post-COVID, we need to make sure that children and their families have the tools they need to weather similar storms in the future. Quality education, social protection services and better economic opportunities can be game changers’’, she added.
Vulnerable population groups such as those working in the informal economy and migrant workers will suffer most from economic downturn, increased informality and unemployment, the general fall in living standards, health shocks and insufficient social protection systems, among other pressures.
Evidence is gradually mounting that child labour is rising as schools close during the pandemic. Temporary school closures are currently affecting more than 1 billion learners in over 130 countries. Even when classes restart, some parents may no longer be able to afford to send their children to school.
As a result, more children could be forced into exploitative and hazardous jobs. Gender inequalities may grow more acute, with girls particularly vulnerable to exploitation in agriculture and domestic work, the report added.
It further proposed a number of measures to counter the threat of increased child labour, including more comprehensive social protection, easier access to credit for poor households, the promotion of decent work for adults, measures to get children back into school, including the elimination of school fees, and more resources for labour inspections and law enforcement.
ILO and UNICEF are developing a simulation model to look at the impact of COVID-19 on child labour globally. New global estimates on child labour will be released in 2021.
The last two decades have seen significant strides in the fight against child labour. But the COVID-19 pandemic poses very real risks of Positive trends may falter, and child labour may worsen, especially in places where it has remained resistant to change.
These risks require urgent action to prevent and mitigate the tolls the pandemic takes on children and their families.
The full impacts and length of the crisis, and how different people will fare, remain uncertain. However, some of the fallout is already obvious.
The pandemic has increased economic insecurity, profoundly disrupted supply chains and halted manufacturing. Tightening credit is constraining financial markets in many countries. Public budgets are straining to keep up.
When these and other factors result in losses in household income, expectations that children contribute financially can intensify. More children could be forced into exploitative and hazardous jobs.
Those already working may do so for longer hours or under worsening conditions. Gender inequalities may grow more acute within families, with girls expected to perform additional household chores and agricultural work.
Temporary school closures may exacerbate these tendencies, as households look for new ways to allocate children’s time.
There is no doubt that the current crisis is dire. At the same time, governments can make choices today that will determine the course and consequences of the pandemic. These choices must include conscious measures to prevent and eliminate child labour.
Where child labour has temporarily subsided due to movement restrictions, for example, opportunities may arise to prevent children from going back to work.
Since potentially dramatic cuts in public spending can aggravate children’s vulnerability to harmful and exploitative forms of work, deliberate choices could be made to mitigate these risks, such as through extended social protection for poor families.