“We are losing ground in the fight against child labor,” warns the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Child labor has increased to 160 million – the first increase in two decades – and that number could grow by an additional million 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 have been pushed into child labor in the last four years. and nine million more are at risk of a similar path by the end of 2022 as a result of COVID-19.
And the worst case scenario is even more funny. An ILO simulation model showed that the number of children at risk could rise to 46 million if they do not have access to critical social protection coverage.
“The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put in danger,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in a press release.
“We are at a crucial time and a lot depends on how we respond. It is a time for renewed commitment and energy to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labor.
Governments and international organizations had taken important steps to eradicate child labor. Between 2000-2016 it dropped by 94 million children, according to ILO figures. But the last four years have seen a worrying reversal of this trend.
According to the report’s results, children aged five to 11 who do child labor now account for more than half of the total global figure. And the number of children aged five to 17 doing work that is dangerous or harmful to their health, safety or morals has increased from 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016.
The agricultural sector accounts for 70%, or 112 million, of working children.
Some regions have gone worse than others. The growing population of sub-Saharan Africa, extreme poverty and lack of social protection schemes have pushed 16.6 million more children into child labor in just four years.
And the coronavirus pandemic threatens progress in Asia Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the ILO and UNICEF.
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 made this fight any easier,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.
“Now, well into a second year of global closures, school closures, economic disruptions and declining national budgets, families are being forced to make dire choices.”
UNICEF and the ILO have encouraged governments and international financial institutions to invest in programs that take children into schools.
Nearly 28 percent of children ages five to 11 and 35 percent of children ages 12 to 14 engaged in child labor are not in school, according to the report.
UN agencies have also demanded adequate social protection, including universal benefits for children.