Home / News / World /  Covid-19 can push millions of children into labour, says ILO-UNICEF report

NEW DELH: The covid-19 pandemic will likely push millions of children into labour - a setback to 20 years of progress, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF said on Friday.

The number of children slipping into the labour market because of adversities has declined by 94 million since 2000 but that gain is now at risk, according to the paper titled Covid-19 and Child Labour: A time of crisis, a time to act.

ILO and UNICEF are developing a simulation model to look at the impact of covid-19 on child labour globally.

Children already forced into may be working longer hours or in worsening conditions, the report said.

"As the pandemic wreaks havoc on family incomes, without support, many could resort to child labour," said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder. "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," he said.

According to the paper, covid-19 could result in rise in poverty and therefore an increase in child labour as households use all 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 times of crisis, child labour becomes a coping mechanism for many families," said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore. "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."

Evidence is gradually mounting that child labour is rising as schools close during the pandemic. Temporary school closures are currently affecting more than 1 billion learners in over 130 countries. Even when classes restart, some parents may no longer be able to afford to send their children to school.

As a result, more children 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 report said.

Vulnerable population groups – such as those working in the informal economy and migrant workers – will suffer most from economic downturn, increased informality and unemployment, the general fall in living standards, health shocks and insufficient social protection systems, among other pressures, the paper said.

The brief proposed a number of measures to counter the threat of increased child labour, including more comprehensive social protection, easier access to credit for poor households, promotion of decent work for adults, measures to get children back into school, including the elimination of school fees, and more resources for labour inspections and law enforcement.

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