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The Impact of COVID-19 on Child Labor

By Ellie Murphy, CLC Intern

Combatting child labor during a global pandemic is a staggering challenge. In countries like Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Bangladesh—and dozens more struggling with child labor problems—school cancellations and lost family income may push children into the labor market. Once in, it may be hard for them to get out and return to school. In the face of this dire emergency, governments, the corporate world, and charitable institutions will need to support vulnerable families during this unprecedented time.  

CLC intern Ellie Murphy

There is a strong correlation between access to education and preventing child labor. An estimated 1.5 billion children are out of school. “Lack of access to education keeps the cycle of exploitation, illiteracy and poverty going – limiting future options and forcing children to accept low-wage work as adults and to raise their own children in poverty,” noted the children’s advocacy group Their World

With 9 in 10 children across the globe prevented from attending school in person, Human Rights Watch notes that interrupting formal education will have a huge impact on children and jeopardize their opportunity for better employment opportunities in the future: “For many children, the COVID-19 crisis will mean limited or no education, or falling further behind their peers.”

With many parents losing their jobs, children will face increasing pressure to supplement family incomes. Poverty is the single greatest cause of child labor. “Children work because their survival and that of their families depend on it, and in many cases because unscrupulous adults take advantage of their vulnerability,” notes the International Labour Organization.

Countries are being impacted by COVID-19 differently, but developing countries are expected to feel more negative consequences than developed countries, according to a WorldAtlas.com report, “How Are Third-World Countries Affected by COVID-19?” Tourism and trade helps fuel many of these economies and COVID is devastating both sectors.

Developing countries—primarily in Africa and Asia—already house 90 percent of working children, according to the International Journal of Health Sciences. Economic pressure from the pandemic will likely drive even more children into the work force.

Before the pandemic, child labor in West Africa was widespread—1.2 million child laborers were employed by cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and 900,000 children on cocoa farms in Ghana, according to researchers from Tulane University. Ghana and the Ivory Coast produce about 60% of the world’s cocoa—a critical ingredient in chocolate. A recent Voice of America (VOA) article included predications that “…there will be increased economic pressures on farming families, and ongoing school closures in Ghana mean children are more likely to accompany their parents to their farms and be exposed to hazardous activities.”

 The VOA cited research by the International Cocoa Initiative that analyzed the impacts of income loss on child labor rates in the Ivory Coast and found that a 10% drop in income for families in the cocoa industry is expected to produce a 5% increase in child labor.  

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Human Rights Watch: In Bangladesh, Tanneries Harm Workers, Poison Communities and Exploit Child Workers

 

October 9, 2012
[Human Rights Watch interviewed 10 children, some as young as 11, working in tanneries. Many children work 12 or even 14 hours a day, considerably more than the five-hour limit for adolescents in factory work established by Bangladeshi law.]

Workers in many leather tanneries in the Hazaribagh neighborhood of Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital,  including children as young as 11, become ill because of exposure to hazardous chemicals and are injured in horrific workplace accidents, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The tanneries, which export hundreds of millions of dollars in leather for luxury goods throughout the world, spew pollutants into surrounding communities.

The 101-page report, “Toxic Tanneries: The Health Repercussions of Bangladesh’s Hazaribagh Leather,” documents an occupational health and safety crisis among tannery workers, both men and women, including skin diseases and respiratory illnesses caused by exposure to tanning chemicals, and limb amputations caused by accidents in dangerous tannery machinery. Residents of Hazaribagh slums complain of illnesses such as fevers, skin diseases, respiratory problems, and diarrhea, caused by the extreme tannery pollution of air, water, and soil. The government has not protected the right to health of the workers and residents, has consistently failed to enforce labor or environmental laws in Hazaribagh, and has ignored High Court orders to clean up these tanneries.

“Hazaribagh’s tanneries flood the environment with harmful chemicals,” said Richard Pearshouse, senior researcher in the health and human rightsdivision of Human Rights Watch. “While the government takes a hands-off approach, local residents fall sick and workers suffer daily from their exposure to harmful tannery chemicals.”

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Asia Leads World in Child-Labor Products: US Report

AFP

WASHINGTON – India, Bangladesh and the Philippines lead the world in the number of products made by child workers, a US government stock-taking of the global scale of underaged labor revealed Monday.

Some 130 types of goods – from building bricks and soccer balls to pornography and rare ores used in cellphones – involve child labor in 71 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the Department of Labor said.

“We believe that we all have God-given potential … and every child should be given the right to fulfil their dreams,” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis at the release of the 10th annual “Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.”

Focusing this year on hazardous work performed by children, and relying in good part on International Labor Organization data, the report examines efforts by more than 140 countries to address the worst forms of child labor.

The International Labor Organization estimates that more than 215 million children are involved in child labor.

One-third of countries have yet to define hazardous kinds of work prohibited to children, it said. Some nations have no minimum age for such work, and still more lack the means to monitor and enforce bans on dangerous child labor.

A rundown of goods produced by child labor, issued alongside the report, underlined the degree to which youngsters in developing nations are forced to work, rather than go to school, for little if any wages.

India topped the list, with its children being used to make no fewer than 20 products, including bidis, bricks, fireworks, footwear, glass bangles, incense, locks, matches, rice, silk fabric and thread, and soccer balls.… Read the rest