How did the pandemic affect child labour?

Week of 31 May 2021

How did the pandemic affect child labour?

Our key takeaway: Massive school closures + unprecedented loss of jobs = surge in child labour. Focus needs to be placed on alleviating poverty and supporting adult employment to stop children from being supply chain workers.

NGOs Human Rights Watch, Friends of the Nation and the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights published a study on the most significant human rights risks and impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic for children in Ghana, Nepal and Uganda:

    • COVID-19 created major setbacks for reducing child labour around the globe. Prior to the pandemic, many countries had made significant positive progress towards eradicating child labour. Per the International Labour Organization (ILO), between 2000 and 2016, child labour globally decreased by 38%, with the number of children in child labour dropping by approximately 94 million. The pandemic erased many of these gains for the most vulnerable people: as a result of “massive school closures and unprecedented loss of jobs and income for millions of families, many children have entered the workforce to help their families survive, while others have been forced to work longer hours or enter more precarious and exploitative situations.”
    • But “a rise in child labor is not an inevitable consequence of the pandemic.” The report finds that governments in the countries where child labour has increased the most—including Ghana, Nepal and Uganda—have failed to implement solutions that could prevent rising child labour rates. For example, certain policy measures that support families’ incomes (e.g. cash transfers and child allowances) can help reduce systemic factors like poverty and adult unemployment that cause children to enter the workforce. While the report focuses primarily on government interventions, companies sourcing from these countries should also take note of where they can support multi-dimensional interventions and collaborative efforts to eliminate the deep-seated, expansive issue of child labour in the places and sectors where they operate and source.
    • Children already at risk of child labour pre-pandemic were most affected during the pandemic. The report identifies sectors and types of work posing the highest risks of child labour, including brick kilns, carpet factories, gold mines, stone quarries, fisheries, agriculture and construction. The findings also illuminated the severe risks faced by children in these sectors. For example, “In each of the three countries, more than one-third of the children interviewed worked at least 10 hours a day, some for seven days a week. Some worked as many as 16 hours a day. Children who were already working before the pandemic said that they increased their hours after schools closed.” In addition, many children were paid piece rates rather than salaries, while other children—more than 25% of the children interviewed for the report—said that they sometimes received lower wages than promised or did not receive any wages at all for their work. These abuses were worse for girls, who sometimes reported being paid less than boys for the same work or were subject to sexual harassment and violence by their employers and other workers.

For more, see Human Rights Watch, Friends of the Nation, and Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, “I Must Work to Eat”: Covid-19, Poverty, and Child labor in Ghana, Nepal, and Uganda (May 2021)