Geneva – The world has marked the first increase in child labor in two decades and the coronavirus crisis threatens to plunge millions more young people into the same fate, the United Nations said on Thursday.
In a joint report, the United Nations International Labor Organization and UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, said there were 160 million child laborers at the start of 2020, a increase of 8.4 million in four years.
The increase began before the pandemic hit and marks a dramatic reversal in a trend that saw the number of child laborers decline by 94 million between 2000 and 2016, according to the report.
Children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 17 who are forced out of school and work are considered child laborers, explains Pamela Falk of CBS News.
“The coronavirus pandemic has had many tragic economic consequences for poor countries,” and it is quite another, says Falk.
Just as the COVID-19 crisis was starting to gain momentum, nearly one in 10 children worldwide was stuck in child labor, with sub-Saharan Africa the hardest hit.
“Even in regions where there has been progress since 2016, such as Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, COVID-19 is putting that progress at risk,” the report said.
While the percentage of working children has remained the same as in 2016, population growth has resulted in a significant increase in their number.
And the pandemic threatens to significantly worsen the situation, the agencies said.
They warned that unless urgent action is taken to help a growing number of families slide into poverty, nearly 50 million more children could be forced into child labor over the next two years.
“We are losing ground in the fight to end child labor,” UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore told reporters, stressing that “the COVID-19 crisis is making the situation even worse”.
“Now, well after a second year of global shutdowns, school closures, economic disruption and squeezing national budgets, families are forced to make heartbreaking choices,” she said.
If the latest projections of increasing poverty due to the pandemic materialize, nine million more children will be forced into child labor by the end of 2022, according to the report.
But statistical modeling shows that number could potentially be more than five times higher, according to Claudia Cappa, UNICEF statistics specialist, co-author of the report.
“If social protection coverage slips from current levels … AFP.
“The new estimates are a wake-up call,” ILO chief Guy Ryder said in a statement.
“We cannot sit idly by while a new generation of children is put at risk,” he said, stressing that “we are at a crossroads and it depends a lot on how we react. “.
“This is a time for renewed commitment and energy to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labor.”
The report, which is released every four years, showed that children between the ages of five and 11 made up more than half of the global figure.
Boys were significantly more likely to be affected, representing 97 of the 160 million children who were working hard in early 2020.
But the gender gap halves when household chores performed for at least 21 hours per week are counted, according to the report.
Of particular concern, perhaps, has been the significant increase seen in children between the ages of five and 17 who perform so-called hazardous work, which is known to affect a child’s development, education or health.
This can include working in hazardous industries, like mining or with heavy machinery, and working more than 43 hours a week, making schooling almost impossible.
At the start of 2020, 79 million children were considered to be doing such hazardous work, 6.5 million more than four years ago, according to the report.
The study found that most child labor is concentrated in the agricultural sector, which accounts for 70 percent of the global total, or 112 million children.
Some 20 percent of child labor occurs in the service sector and about 10 percent in industry, he found.
The largest increase was seen in sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth, recurring crises, extreme poverty and inadequate social protection measures have pushed an additional 16.6 million children into child labor since 2016, according to the report.
Almost a quarter of children in sub-Saharan Africa are already in child labor, compared to 2.3 percent in Europe and North America.
United Nations agencies have warned that additional economic shocks and school closings caused by the COVID crisis meant children already in child labor could work longer and under increasingly difficult conditions.
And many more are at risk of being forced into the worst forms of child labor due to job and income losses among vulnerable families, according to the report.