“Alarming” development in child labor

For years child labor has been declining worldwide, but now it is stagnating. The serious effects of the corona pandemic are not even taken into account in the new figures.

In the Congo, a boy carries a sandbag to a construction site.

WWorldwide every tenth child between the ages of 5 and 17 has to work. After years of negative development, progress in the fight against child labor is now stagnating for the first time. This is shown by the results of a new study by Unicef ​​and the International Labor Organization (ILO), which was presented in Geneva on Wednesday evening. The standstill compared to previous years is “alarming”, say the initiators of the study. For two decades, the number of children involved in child labor had steadily decreased. The United Nations has set itself the goal of eliminating child labor completely by 2025.

The estimates for 2020 were published shortly before World Day against Child Labor next Saturday. Compared to 2016, the total number of working children rose by 8 million to 160 million, according to the study. The percentage remained the same. Around half of these children work under dangerous conditions that are harmful to their health, safety or personal development.

The ILO has been carrying out this study for two decades, this year for the first time together with Unicef. The newly published figures were collected at the beginning of 2020, i.e. before the global outbreak of the corona pandemic. These are extrapolations based on data from 100 household surveys.

The results show large regional differences. While the numbers in Asia (including the Pacific region) and Latin America (including the Caribbean) have been falling steadily since 2008, they are continuing to rise in Africa. According to this, 87 million children work south of the Sahara – that is more than in the rest of the world. The region is thus making a significant contribution to the global absolute increase. In addition, child labor is more common, especially in rural regions. At almost 14 percent of children, the percentage is three times as high as in the cities. Part of this is because much of the child labor continues to take place in the agricultural sector. For the youngest in particular, agricultural work is a widespread introduction to child labor.

The increasing number of child labor among the very young is also worrying. While the number of working children continues to fall in the age group from 12 to 17, the trend in the 5 to 11 year olds is in the opposite direction. For them, the study results show an increase of 16.8 million more working children than in the same year 2016.

At the time the data was collected at the beginning of last year, the corona pandemic had not yet spread widely around the world. But now it threatens to exacerbate the worrying development of child labor. The study’s authors estimate that 8.9 million additional children are starting or have started working as a result of the pandemic. The reason for this is the drop in income of parents who have to fall back on the labor of the children, as well as the school closings in many countries. Once children have left school to work, it is difficult to go back to school. The actual impact of the pandemic on the extent of child labor will depend on political action.