Binsar Bakkara / AP
In 2020, the world saw an increase in child labor for the first time in two decades. Additionally, with the coronavirus pandemic devastating economies and school closures, the United Nations believes that by 2022, the problem will get much worse.
An estimated 160 million children were involved in child labor around the world at the start of 2020, an increase of 8.4 million in four years, according to a new report from the UN and the International Labor Organization (ILO). About half of these children were involved in hazardous work, such as mining and farming, which directly endangered their health and safety.
Children aged 5 to 11 now represent just over half of the global total.
“The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand idly by as a new generation of children is put at risk,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in a statement. .
COVID-19 has previously been linked to children working longer hours or in worsening conditions due to job and income losses among vulnerable families. But by the end of 2022, nine million more young people could be forced into child labor because of the pandemic, according to the report.
A simulation model, drawing on factors linked to a pandemic such as a struggling economy, shows that number could reach 46 million if they do not have access to essential social services, according to UN and ILO .
Ryder called for “renewed commitment and energy to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labor”.
He said policies that allow children to stay in school even in the midst of economic hardship, increased investments in rural development and decent agricultural work are key to turning the tide.
Child labor levels worse in sub-Saharan Africa
Despite the global situation, child labor in Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean continues to decline thanks to more investment in education and child protection services.
But progress in sub-Saharan Africa has proved elusive due to high levels of poverty and HIV / AIDS, and conflict in the region, according to the report.
This region has more working children than the rest of the world combined, with 86.6 million young people aged 5 to 17 involved in child labor.
In sub-Saharan Africa, four out of five children work in agriculture. This type of work exposes them to pesticides and other chemicals, extreme temperatures and dangerous tools and machines.
Brian Inganga / AP
In the rest of the world, the agricultural sector accounts for the largest share of child labor with 70%. Another 19.7% work in services, such as domestic work and transportation, and 10.3% work in industry, including mining, construction and manufacturing.
In comparison, in Europe and North America, only 3.8 million young people are involved in child labor.
More boys than girls are in child labor
If children live in rural areas, they are much more likely to be involved in child labor than their counterparts who live in urban areas. Minors living in rural areas are three times more likely to work than those living in cities.
Jorge Saenz / AP
The gender of the child also plays a role in whether they work and what type of industry they are involved in. Young girls are more likely to be involved in domestic work and services than in mining or construction, according to the report.
About 34 million boys are involved in child labor compared to girls, according to the report. The gender gap increases with age, and boys are about twice as likely as girls to be in child labor in the 15 to 17 age group.