COVID-19 pandemic threatens progress made by Nepal to reduce child labor

Published On: June 11, 2021 05:33 PM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

KATHMANDU, June 11: The number of children in child labor has risen to 160 million worldwide --an increase in 8.4 million children in the last four years-- with millions more at risk due to adverse impacts of COVID-19, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF.

The report entitled, ‘Child Labor: Global Estimates 2020, Trends and the Road Forward’, released ahead of the World Day Against Child Labor on June 12, warns that the progress to end child labor has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labor fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2006.

The report points to a significant rise in the number of children aged five to 11 years in child labour, who now account for just over half of the total global figure. The number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work – defined as work that is likely to harm their health, physical safety and psychological wellbeing – has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016. 

“These new estimates indicate that despite the increasing commitment and efforts by governments, the social partners and civil society to tackle child labour, the problem remains on a massive scale,” a joint press statement issued by the ILO and UNICEF quoted ILO Director for Country Office in Nepal, Richard Howard as saying. “This situation represents an intolerable violation of the rights of individual children, it perpetuates poverty and it compromises economic growth and equitable development. It is high time for all of us to join forces and implement programs to address vulnerabilities associated with child labour, including lack of social protection and decent work opportunities for families vulnerable to poverty and exclusion.” 

The report warns that globally, nine million additional children are at the risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic. A simulation model shows this number could rise to 46 million if they don’t have access to critical social protection coverage. 

Even in regions where there has been some headway since 2016, such as Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, COVID-19 is endangering that progress. 

In Nepal, the pandemic is also impacting on the progress in eradicating child labour. Indeed, the Nepal Child Labour Report 2021, a joint publication of the ILO and Central Bureau of Statistics shows a declining trend of overall child labour in Nepal, reaching 1.1 million in 2018 from 1.6 million in 2008. A significant decline is observed in the number of children in hazardous occupations (0.62 million in 2008 to 0.22 million in 2018). 

The statement said that this important progress made is now challenged by the socioeconomic realities of the COVID 19 pandemic. Children in child labour are at risk of physical and mental harm. Child labour compromises children’s education, restricting their rights and limiting their future opportunities, and leads to vicious inter-generational cycles of poverty and child labour. 

“Preventing child labour and protecting children from the associated risks of physical and mental harm, school drop-out and exploitation were already major challenges prior to COVID-19. As the new data shows, the severe socio-economic impact of the pandemic has hit families with children particularly hard. According to the rapid Child & Family Tracker survey carried out in late May, over 50 per cent of families across Nepal have lost jobs and related livelihoods in the current context.” said Elke Wisch, UNICEF Representative in Nepal. 

UNICEF Representative Wisch said an increased economic hardship combined with school closures caused by COVID-19 place children already in child labour at increased risk of working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while many more may be forced into the worst forms of child labour due to job and income losses among vulnerable families.

"Our collective success in combating COVID-19 needs to also be measured in the number of families we are supporting through these dire circumstances and the girls and boys who can continue to strive, grow and develop," she said. "This is not out of reach – it can be achieved through our collective investment in programs that not only get children out of the workforce and back into school, but also social work and social protection programs that can help families avoid making this choice in the first place.”

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