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Increase in child labor for twenty years: “We are all responsible”


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A study by Unicef ​​reveals, on the occasion of World Child Labor Day, that 160 million minors were forced to work in 2020, or 8.4 million more in four years. A first for twenty years.

They are invisible, but everywhere: servants between the walls of houses, workers hidden in workshops, toddlers hidden in the plantations. For the first time in 20 years, child labor has increased around the world, according to a UN report published on the occasion of the World Day against Child Labor on June 12. The number of working minors has thus increased from 152 million in 2016 to 160 million in 2020, i.e. 8.4 million more in four years. “One in ten children is affected, it’s a huge subject,” comments Philippe Lévêque, Director General of Care France in an interview with France 24. The teams of our NGO had also noted this increase in the field, but we did not have scientific data to confirm it. It is now done, with this very exhaustive study carried out by the UN. ”

An Afghan child carries a bag of grass on his shoulders on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif on May 20, 2019. © Farshad Usyan, AFP

The report, published every four years, reveals that half of these underage workers are only five to eleven years old. They are also 60% male, the phenomenon striking boys more. A worrying development, the dangerousness of work has also increased, with direct consequences on the development, education or health of these young people. Unicef ​​estimates that 79 million children perform hazardous work, 6.5 million more than four years ago. The vast majority of these children work in agricultural fields (112 million, or 70%). The others do odd jobs in services (20%) or industry (10%).

All continents affected

The largest increase in child labor has been recorded mainly in Africa, due to population growth, crises and poverty, said the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef). But in reality, the scourge spares no continent. “On a marginal note, we can see that child labor also exists in Europe, with Roma children in particular forced into begging.”


There are many reasons for this increase. The Covid-19 pandemic can partly explain this upsurge. But this is not enough because the increase in child labor had already started to rise again before the health crisis. There are other factors. “The large number of conflicts which shake the planet, in particular in the Sahel, Syria and Yemen, automatically lead to recourse to child labor with schools which close, and displacement of populations”, underlines the humanitarian officer.

In other areas, such as Haiti, this increase stems from the failure of economic and social policies. Finally, this increase is also attributable to manufacturers. “As long as we do not pay enough parents, we will not end child labor, continues the boss of Care France. We must tackle the entire value chain. , we all bear some responsibility. When a consumer buys green beans from Mali in the middle of January, he is partly responsible. If consumers do not agree to change, there will be no end to the problem. child labor. “


Towards an aggravation of the phenomenon

Humanitarian action also points to the responsibility of industrialists. Admittedly, “many of them have made significant traceability efforts in this direction”. By placing chips on bags of cocoa, coffee, cotton, or tea to move up the channels, by launching audits and control operations, we can fight the phenomenon. “It happens that some companies do not detect child labor because it is not easy to spot it, especially in the cocoa sector where there are myriad producers. Others do not make any effort in this area.”

The phenomenon could get even worse with the pandemic. The progress made in recent decades is likely to erode, and nine million more children could be pushed into work by the end of 2022 “if governments do not protect the vulnerable,” said the UN. “The health restrictions taken by the authorities by closing businesses and activities have broken the dynamic of trade, notes Philippe Lévêque. Deprived of activity, people do not have social protection as we have in the West. whatever the cost ‘, we would surely be in the same situation. “


The pandemic could even affect regions that have made progress in this area since 2016, such as Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean. “Today, while we have already entered a second year of confinements, school closures, economic disruption and cuts in national budgets, families are forced to make heartbreaking choices,” laments Henrietta in a statement. Fore, Director General of Unicef. In any case, “we must not blame the parents, they are not monsters, continues Philippe Lévêque. With a few exceptions, it is always heartbreaking for them to send them to work.”

Because child labor often brings other problems in its wake. “Young girls employed as domestic workers in large African cities or in Haiti are often also confronted with sexual violence or slavery.”

Possible solutions

Solutions exist to curb the problem. UN calls for “universal family allowance for all”, as well as increased “spending on quality education and the return of all children to school – including children who were not in school before Covid-19. ” The UN organization is also campaigning for the promotion of decent work for adults, “so that families no longer need to resort to child labor to generate family income”. Finally, the report’s drafters point to the need to put an end to gender norms and discrimination “which have an impact on child labor.”

To eradicate the evil, “it is also necessary to control the value chain and to sanction if necessary, abounds Phlippe Lévêque. It is also necessary that the media and public authorities sensitize all the actors, so that when one buys his tablet chocolate, we ask ourselves the right questions. ”

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