Why are we allowing Covid-19 pandemic to force millions of kids into child-labor?

The Census of 2011 reports 10.1 million working children in India in the age group of 5-14 years, out of whom 8.1 million are in rural areas mainly engaged as cultivators (26%) and agricultural labourers (32.9%). 5.6 million children are boys and 4.5 million are girls.

  • Vrinda Lobo

A shocking report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF states, that the number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide, with millions more at risk due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The number has increased by 8,4 million children in the last four years. 

The progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016. 

Children aged 5 to 11 years, account for just over half of the total global figure. The number of children aged 5 to 17 years doing hazardous work, harming their health, morals and safety, has risen by 6,5 million to 79 million since 2016. 

Children in child labour are at risk of physical and mental harm. Child labour compromises children’s education, restricting their rights and limiting their future opportunities, and leads to vicious inter-generational cycles of poverty and child labour. 

Working at a young age puts children at risk contracting occupational diseases like skin diseases, diseases of the lungs, weak eyesight, TB etc. It makes them vulnerable to sexual exploitation at the workplace. Working children are deprived of education and they grow up unable to avail development opportunities and end up as unskilled workers for the rest of their lives. 

 “The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “Inclusive social protection allows families to keep their children in school even in the face of economic hardship. Increased investment in rural development and decent work in agriculture is essential. We are at a pivotal moment and much depends on how we respond. This is a time for renewed commitment and energy, to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labour.” 

Recurrent crises and extreme poverty in the sub-Saharan Africa region have led to an additional 16.6 million children in child labour over the last four years. In Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, COVID-19 is endangering that progress. 

The Census of 2011 reports 10.1 million working children in India in the age group of 5-14 years, out of whom 8.1 million are in rural areas mainly engaged as cultivators (26%) and agricultural labourers (32.9%). 5.6 million children are boys and 4.5 million are girls. 

The report warns that globally, 9 million additional children worldwide are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic. A simulation model shows this number could rise to 46 million if they don’t have access to critical social protection coverage. 

 “We are losing ground in the fight against child labour, and the last year has not made that fight any easier,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. 

To reverse the upward trend in child labour, the ILO and UNICEF are calling for adequate social protection for all, for quality education and getting all children back into school, promotion of decent work for adults and to end harmful gender norms and discrimination that influence child labour. Investments in child protection systems, agricultural development, rural public services, infrastructure and livelihoods are needed. 

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