“Wake-up call”: the world sees an increase in child labor for the first time in 20 years, UN reports

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Geneva – The world has seen the first increase in the use of child labor in two decades, and coronavirus crisis The United Nations said Thursday that it threatens to face millions of young people with the same fate.

In a joint reportThe UN International Labor Organization and the UN Children’s Agency UNICEF said 160 million children were employed as of early 2020, an increase of 8.4 million in four years.

The report says the growth started before the pandemic broke out and marks a dramatic reversal in the trend that led to a 94 million decline in child labor between 2000 and 2016.

CBS News’s Pamela Falk explains that children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 17 who are forced to drop out of school and work are considered child laborers.

“The coronavirus pandemic has had many tragic economic consequences for poor countries,” says Falk.

As the COVID-19 crisis began to gain traction, nearly one in ten children worldwide were stuck in child labor, with sub-Saharan Africa hitting the hardest.

“Even in regions that have seen some progress since 2016, such as the Asia-Pacific region, Latin America and the Caribbean, COVID-19 is jeopardizing that progress,” the report said.

child-laborer.jpg
A child working in a mine in Burkina Faso.

UNICEF / UNI394756 / Dejongh


Although the percentage of children in child labor has remained at the same level as in 2016, population growth has meant that this number has grown significantly.

The agencies said the pandemic could make the situation significantly worse.

They warned that, unless urgent action is taken to help the growing number of families falling 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 eradicate child labor,” UNICEF head Henrietta Fore told reporters, stressing that “the COVID-19 crisis only exacerbates the bad situation.”

“Now that this is the second year of global lockdowns, school closings, economic turmoil and cuts in national budgets, families are forced to make heartbreaking choices,” she said.

The report says that if the latest projections of an increase in poverty due to the pandemic come true, by the end of 2022, another nine million children will be involved in child labor.

But statistical modeling suggests the number could potentially be more than five times higher, according to UNICEF statistician Claudia Kappa, co-author of the report.

“If social protection coverage falls from current levels … as a result of austerity and other factors, the number of children in child labor could rise (additional) by 46 million,” by the end of next year, she said. AFP.

“The new assessments are a wake-up call,” said ILO chief Guy Ryder.

“We cannot stand aside while a new generation of children is at risk,” he said, stressing that “we are at a critical juncture and a lot depends on how we respond.”

“It’s time for renewed commitment and energy to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labor.”

The report, which is published every four years, shows that children aged 5 to 11 account for more than half of the global total.

Boys were significantly more affected, accounting for 97 of the 160 million children in child labor at the beginning of 2020.

But the gender gap is cut in half if you count household chores at least 21 hours a week, the report said.

Perhaps especially worrisome has been the significant increase in the number of children between the ages of five and 17 doing so-called hazardous work, which is believed to affect a child’s development, education or health.

This can include working in hazardous industries such as mining or heavy machinery, and working more than 43 hours a week, making education nearly impossible.

According to the report, 79 million children were doing this kind of dangerous work in early 2020, up 6.5 million from four years ago.

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.

It found that about 20 percent of child labor is in the service sector and about 10 percent in industry.

The largest increases have been in sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty and inadequate social protection measures have forced an additional 16.6 million children into child labor since 2016, the report said.

Almost a quarter of children in sub-Saharan Africa are already involved in child labor, compared with 2.3% in Europe and North America.

UN agencies have warned that additional economic shocks and school closings caused by the COVID crisis mean children already in child labor may be able to work longer and in worsening conditions.

Many more people are at risk of being forced into the worst forms of child labor by the loss of jobs and income among vulnerable families, the report says.

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