UN Agencies Warn COVID-19 Could Plunge Millions of Children into Forced Labor

A joint report by the International Labor Organization and U.N. Children’s Fund warns that millions of children are likely to be pushed into forced labor because of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. The two agencies launched a report, titled, “COVID-19 and Child Labor: A Time of Crisis” to mark World Day Against Child Labor, June 12.Authors of the report warn the global pandemic is likely to reverse decades of steady progress made in reducing the number of child laborers. Over the past 20 years, the International Labor Organization said, child labor has decreased by 94 million.The latest figures put the number of child laborers globally at 152 million, nearly half of them in what is called hazardous child labor. Those jobs are particularly dangerous and hazardous to the physical and mental well-being of children. They include work in the agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, and domestic sectors.The report warns that millions of children are likely to be forced into the worst forms of labor as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the economy and families have no means of support. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new coronavirus.Closed schools a factorThe senior researcher and ILO lead author of the report, Lorenzo Guarcello, told VOA evidence is growing that child labor is rising as schools close during the pandemic. He said many children who do not go to school are likely to be forced into exploitative and hazardous jobs.“Families are sending children to sell in the streets some food, flowers,” he said. “So, already, they are starting to work. They are much more exposed to work in hazardous conditions because of the increase, the likely increase and involvement in the informal sector.”Guarcello said Africa has the largest number of child laborers. Of its 72 million child laborers, he said, 31.5 million are in hazardous work. He said most are employed in the agriculture sector.“We know that working in agriculture exposes children to hazardous conditions — long working hours, being exposed to the heat for a full day, using dangerous machinery and so on,” he said.Guarcello said the ILO and UNICEF are developing a simulation model to look at the global impact of COVID-19. He said new global estimates will be released next year.Among its recommendations, the joint report is calling for comprehensive social protection and easier access to credit for poor households to counter the threat of child labor. 

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