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Covid-19 may push millions of children into child labour

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Dhaka, Bangladesh

Millions of children are at risk of being pushed into child labour due to the Covid-19 crisis, which could lead to the first increase in child labour after 20 years of progress, according to a new brief from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Unicef.

The report “Covid-19 and Child Labour” said this is a time of crisis, a time to act as child labour which decreased by 94 million since 2000, is now at risk.

Children already involved in child labour may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, the report said.

More of them may be forced into the worst forms of labour causing significant harm to their health and safety.

“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,” the ILO DG added.

According to the brief, Covid-19 could result in a rise in poverty and, therefore, an increase in child labour as households use every available means to survive.

Some studies show that a 1% rise in poverty leads to at least a 0.7% 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, and more children are pushed into the workforce.

“As we re-imagine 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,” Fore added.

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

“Up until the current crises hit, Bangladesh had been making great strides in reducing child labour,” said Tuomo Poutiainen, Country director, ILO Bangladesh.

“Now more than ever, we must all work together to ensure these gains are not derailed by the ongoing pandemic. This timely report sheds light on the devastating impact of Covid-19 and provides the ILO, Government, Employers and Workers Organizations and other partners, the means and the evidence on how best to respond to the current crises.”

“The Covid-19 pandemic has a particularly negative impact on the lives, hopes and future of the most vulnerable children. Closure of schools and reduction of family income expose many children to the risk of child labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Studies have shown that the longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return. We need to prioritize education and the protection of children now and throughout the duration of the pandemic,” said Tomoo Hozumi, Unicef Representative in Bangladesh.

Evidence is gradually mounting that child labour is rising as schools close in 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 also grow more acute, with girls particularly vulnerable to exploitation in agriculture and domestic work, the brief says.

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