The world has marked the first increase in child labor in two decades and the coronavirus crisis threatens to push millions of young people to the same fate, the United Nations said yesterday.
In a joint report, the International Labor Organization and UNICEF said the number of child laborers was 160 million at the beginning of 2020 – an increase of 8.4 million over four years.
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The increase began before the pandemic epidemic and marks a dramatic reversal of a downward trend that had seen child labor numbers fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016, he said.
Just as the Covid-19 crisis began to escalate, nearly one in 10 children worldwide was trapped in child labor, with sub-Saharan Africa being hit hardest.
The report warned that unless urgent action was taken to help a number of families rise into poverty, nearly 50 million more children could be forced into child labor over the next two years.
“We are losing ground in the fight to end child labor,” UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore told reporters, adding that “the Covid-19 crisis is making a bad situation even worse.”
“Now, in a second year of global lockout, school closures, financial turmoil and shrinking national budgets, families are being forced to make sad choices.”
The 79 million children were thought to be doing hazardous work in early 2020, an increase of 6.5 million from four years earlier, according to the report.
The study found that most child labor is concentrated in agriculture, which accounts for 70% of the world’s population, or 112 million children. Meanwhile, about 20% of child labor occurs in the service sector and about 10% in industry.