FeaturedInternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 22

Covid-19 worsens the child labour situation

This year the World Day Against Child Labour, which falls on June 12, was observed in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. According to the International Labour Organization, there are about 152 million children globally who are engaged in child labour, 72 million of them are in hazardous occupations. With the coronavirus pandemic having brought the global economy to a standstill, these children are now at an even greater risk of facing harsher working conditions and longer hours.

The World Day against Child Labour is observed every year to raise awareness of the evil of child labour. This year’s theme focuses on the urgent need to protect children from under-age labour, especially in the world of Covid-19. World Day against Child Labour 2020 draws international attention to the impact of the crisis on the child labour situation. This year, a virtual campaign is being organised jointly with the Global March Against Child Labour and the International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture (IPCCLA).

The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic and labour market shocks have had an adverse effect on the lives of millions of people, especially children. Reports from around the world indicate that the Covid-19 crisis has pushed thousands of vulnerable children into child labour.

The World Day against Child Labour was first launched in 2002 to sensitize the public to the need to prevent child labour. The ILO launched the World Day against Child Labour to bring attention and organize efforts to fight against child labour. The day brings together governments, local authorities, civil society and international worker and employer organizations to highlight the child labour problem and define the guidelines to help child labourers.

Available data shows that hundreds of millions of girls and boys throughout the world are involved in work that deprives them of receiving an adequate education, health and leisure facilities. Of the children, more than half are exposed to the worst forms of child labour. The worst forms of child labour include work in hazardous environments, slavery, or other forms of forced labour, illicit activities such as drug trafficking and prostitution, as well as involvement in armed conflict.

According to a new report from the International Labour Organization and UNICEF, the Covid 19 scourge is pushing millions more children into the vortex of child labour, further worsening the situation. Children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under more difficult conditions. A large number of them may be forced into the worst forms of labour, causing significant harm to their health and safety.

According to the ILO Director General, “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.”

Various expert studies have revealed that Covid-19 has worsened the poverty levels, leading 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. In the words of the UNICEF Executive Director, “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 reimagine 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.”

Vulnerable groups – such as those working in the informal economy and migrant workers – have suffered most from the economic collapse, resulting in higher unemployment, a general fall in living standards, health shocks and insufficient social protection systems.

During the last few months there has been an increase in child labour as schools close during the pandemic. Figures show that school closures are currently affecting more than 1 billion learners in over 130 countries. Many of them are likely to join the ranks of child labour and 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 UN bodies have outlined a number of measures to ward off the threat of increased child labour, including more comprehensive social protection, easier access to credit for poor households, new initiatives to get children back into school, elimination of school fees, and more resources for labour inspections and law enforcement. In the given circumstances, innovative approaches and best practices are needed to rescues children from falling into the clutches of child labour due to Covid 19.