Gains lost: ILO flags rise in child labour — the first time this millennium

Globally, 9 million more children are at risk of child labour by the end of 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic 

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 11 June 2021
At least 8 million children pushed into child labour in 4 years, 9 million more at risk due to COVID-19: Report

The process of bringing children out of the labour force worldwide has hit a bump, warned the International Labour Organisation (ILO). 

Global progress to end child labour stopped for the first time in 20 years, a new report by ILO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found.

Child labour figures declined by 94 million between 2000 and 2016. But in the last four years, 8.4 million children were pushed into labour, representing a reversal of the downward trend, the report added. 

The total number of children engaged in labour globally increased to 160 million (63 million girls and 97 million boys) at the beginning of 2020, the report said.

Asia and the Pacific as well as Latin America and the Caribbean have steadily reduced child labour since 2008 but similar progress has escaped sub-Saharan Africa, according to Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward.

In sub-Saharan Africa, population growth, extreme poverty and inadequate social protection measures have forced an additional 16.6 million to work over the past four years, said the report released ahead of World Day Against Child Labour on June 12, 2021.

The world is not on track to eliminate child labour by 2025, the report warned. Global progress would need to be almost 18 times faster than the rate observed over the past two decades to put an end to the malpractice.  

COVID-19 impact

Close to 140 million children will be working in 2025, based on the pace of change from 2008 to 2016. The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is predicted to push millions more into labour in the absence of urgent mitigation.

In 2020, the pandemic increased the number of children in poor-income households by an estimated 142 million, adding to the 582 million children already in poverty in 2019, the report mentioned.

Globally, nine million more children are at risk of being pushed into labour by the end of 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report warned.

An International Cocoa Initiative assessment of 263 communities in Côte d’Ivoire found a significant increase in child labour in cocoa businesses from July to September 2020, compared to the same period a year back.

Other key findings from the 2020 global estimates include:

  • Seventy per cent of all child labour — 112 million children in total — are in agriculture
  • The largest share of child labour takes place within families. Around 72 per cent of all child labour and 83 per cent of child labour among those aged five-11 years occurs within families, primarily on family farms or in family microenterprises
  • More than one in four children in the five-11 age group and nearly half of those aged 12-14 years in family-based child labour are likely to harm their health, safety or morals.
  • Child labour is frequently associated with children being out of school. More than a quarter of children aged five- 11 and over a third of those between 12 and 14 years who are in child labour are out of school.

More than 100 household surveys covering two thirds of the world’s population of children between five and 17 years were used to draw these estimates.

Action back on track

The UN has made 2021 the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, calling for urgent action:

  • Adequate social protection for all, including universal child benefits
  • Increased spending on quality education and getting all children back to school, including children who were out of school before COVID-19
  • Promotion of decent work for adults, so families don't have to resort to children helping to generate family income
  • End to harmful gender norms and discrimination that influence child labour
  • Investment in child protection systems, agricultural development, rural public services, infrastructure and livelihoods

This year, ILO will promote a "week of action" from June 10 to June 17 as an extended celebration of the World Day Against Child Labour.

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