“We are losing ground in the fight against child labor,” warns the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Child labor has risen to 160 million, the first increase in two decades, and that number could rise by millions more due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the UN said Thursday.
A report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) found that 8.4 million children had been pushed to work in the past four years and nine million more were risk of a similar path in late 2022 as a result of COVID-19.
And the worst case scenario is even more disturbing. An ILO simulation model showed that the number of children at risk could increase to 46 million if they do not have access to critical social protection coverage.
“The new estimates are a wake-up call. We can’t stand it while putting a new generation of children at risk, “said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder in a press release.
“We are at a crucial moment and it depends a lot on how we respond. This is a time to renew commitment and energy to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labor. “
Governments and international organizations have made significant strides in eradicating child labor. Between 2000-2016 it fell by 94 million children, according to ILO data. But the last four years have seen a worrying reversal of this trend.
According to the report’s findings, children aged five to eleven doing child labor now account for more than half of the world total. And the number of children aged five to 17 doing jobs that are dangerous or detrimental to health, safety or morale has increased by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016.
The agricultural sector accounts for 70 percent, or 112 million, of working children.
Some regions have gone worse than others. Population growth in sub-Saharan Africa, extreme poverty and lack of social protection systems have pushed an additional 16.6 million children to work in just four years.
And the coronavirus pandemic threatens progress in the Asia Pacific, as well as in Latin America and the Caribbean, the ILO and UNICEF warned.
The economic crisis and school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have made millions of children more vulnerable to working longer hours, in worse conditions and in dangerous jobs.
“We are losing ground in the fight against child labor and the last year has not facilitated this fight,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.
“Now, well into a second year of global closures, school closures, economic disruptions and shrinking national budgets, families are being forced to make heartbreaking decisions.”
UNICEF and the ILO urged governments and international financial institutions to invest in programs that allow children to return to schools.
According to the report, almost 28% of children aged five to 11 and 35% of working children aged 12 to 14 do not work in school.
United Nations agencies also called for adequate social protection, including universal child benefits.