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.
The police found many marks and bruises on the little girl’s body—some of them not new, including some that suggested to them that she may have been sexually assaulted as well. It isn’t hard to surmise that this Zohra’s life was a living hell.
Not all child servants around the world are abused, but it is fair to say that because they work in people’s homes—often invisibly to the public—they are extremely vulnerable to abuse. The International Labour Organizations estimates that around the world 7.5 million children under 15 work as domestic servants.
Art that emphasizes the vulnerability of child domestic servants.
According to the report in the online newspaper The Independent, the girl’s uncle had hired her out. ‘“The couple had promised her uncle that they would provide her education and pay a salary of R[upee]s 3000 per month (£16). But they neither gave her education nor paid salary,” a spokesperson said.’
Imagine essentially buying a child for $20 a month to be a live-in maid and then refusing to even pay that paltry sum or allow the child to exercise their universal human right to education. Unfortunately, many children are lured away with promises of wages and schooling that never materialize. Parents who are often in distant rural villages are unable to ever find them or re-establish contact.
Child domestic servants are often excluded from protective child labor laws that internationally set minimum age work laws at 14 or 15, depending upon how developed the country’s economy is. If most children under 14 cannot work why is there an exception for domestic servants?
Zohra’s death is one of several alarming cases of abuse of child domestic servants that have occurred in Pakistan and other South Asian nations in recent years. The Independent report noted: “A judge and his wife in the capital city of Islamabad were sentenced to one year jail term in 2018 for keeping their ten-year-old maid in wrongful confinement, burning her hand over a missing broom, [and] beating her with a ladle…” In 2019, 16-year-old Uzma Bibi, another domestic servant in Pakistan, was murdered and her employers accused of the crime.
Zohra’s death has sparked outrage in Pakistan and around the world. Pakistani celebrities, including actor Osman Khalid Butt, have called for adding domestic servants to protective minimum age laws. “If we want change beyond #JusticeforZohra, we need to raise our collective voice to amend our child labor laws,” he tweeted. “Child labor is child abuse. We ???????????????????????? have another case like Zohra Shah. We cannot allow for our outrage to fade till our laws are amended to protect the rights of children, sans any loophole.”
The Child Labor Coalition joins this call, urging the government of Pakistan to add domestic work to minimum age protections. The CLC will be holding a World Day Against Child Labor Facebook Live event on June 12, which will feature Evelyn Chumbow, an advocate against child and human trafficking who was lured to the US to do domestic work as a teenager. She found herself virtually imprisoned and subjected to abuse. It took her years to win her freedom. Please join us at 1:00 pm EDT on the 12th for this compelling event which will also feature victims of forced marriage and child labor.
https://stopchildlabor.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/logo.png00Reid Makihttps://stopchildlabor.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/logo.pngReid Maki2020-06-09 11:38:452022-11-17 05:55:49The Death of Zohra Shah is a Call to Action: Child Domestic Servants Must Be Protected
In just a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 outbreak has already had drastic consequences for children. Their access to education, food, and health services has been dramatically affected across the globe. The impact has been so marked, that the UN Secretary General has urged governments and donors to offset the immediate effects of the COVID-19 crisis on children.
In discussions of the pandemic to date, child labour (i.e. forms of work that are harmful to children) has played only a marginal role. Yet, as we describe in this blog, child labour will be an important coping mechanism for poor households experiencing COVID-related shocks. As global poverty rises, so too will the prevalence of child labour. Increased parental mortality due to COVID-19 will force children into child labour, including the worst forms such as work that harms the health and safety of children. Temporary school closures may have permanent implications for the poorest and most vulnerable. Limited budgets and reductions in services for families and children will compound the effects of the health, economic, and social crisis.
We expect millions of children to become child labourers due to a rise in global poverty alone.
Even in the highly improbable scenario of a short-lived economic crisis, the consequences of this increase in child labour can last generations. We know that children who enter child labour are unlikely to stop working if their economic situation improves. Instead, they will continue to experience the implications of child labour—like less education overall and worse employment opportunities—when they are adults and start families of their own. We also know that the younger children are when they start working, the more likely they will experience chronic health issues as adults. Moreover, we have ample evidence that stress and trauma in adolescence lead to a lifetime of mental health challenges.
How parental health affects child labour
Without plausible forecasts on the extent of morbidity and mortality globally, it is impossible to gauge the rise in child labour as a direct result of the health consequences of COVID-19. However, we do know that as parents and caregivers in poor countries fall sick or die, children will take over part of their roles, including domestic work and earning responsibilities, as seen previously in Mali, Mexico, and Tanzania. When desperation sets in, children can be especially vulnerable. One study from Nepal found that paternal disability or death was among the strongest observable predictors of engagement in the worst forms of child labour.
Curbing the consequences of school closures
There is ample reason to be concerned that the temporary disruption of schooling will have permanent effects especially for the poorest. Normally, when children stop going to school and start earning an independent income, it is extremely difficult to get them to go back to school. A study of teacher strikes in Argentina, for instance, found that even temporary school closures can result in permanently lower schooling and reduced labour earnings into adulthood as children who leave school early enter low-skill occupations.
However, it may be possible to curb the consequences of school closure. The global shutdown may limit the ability of children to start earning while they are out of school, potentially mitigating the chance that children will not go back to school. Moreover, the re-opening of schools can cause excitement for both students and their parents. Such excitement was widely reported in the aftermath of school closures due to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. A World Vision report from 2015 quoted an 11 year-old in Sierra Leone: “When school finally reopened on April 14, it was the best day of my life.” Indeed, in Sierra Leone children had largely returned to class by the end of the Ebola epidemic.
As extreme poverty increases, so too will child labour
The economic downturn brought on by COVID is widely expected to lead to an increase in global poverty. One World Bank model forecasts a rise of 40 to 60 million people living in extreme poverty this year alone. A UNU-WIDER study estimates that a 5 percent contraction in per capita incomes will lead to an additional 80 million people living in extreme poverty. Child laborers are a large share of the global population living in extreme poverty. We expect millions of additional children to be pushed into child labour as a result of an increase in extreme poverty alone.
Social protection is crucial to address child labour
Social protection programmes directly addressing poverty are critical to offset the worst impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on child labour. At the time of writing, 133 countries were actively working on social protection responses, including non-contributory cash transfers. Generally, social protection programmes help lower child labour outside the household and help households offset economic shocks. In Colombia, cash transfers helped offset increases in child labour due to absence of the father. In Zambia, cash transfers helped households cushion the effect of weather shocks.
It seems inevitable that, in the medium term, most countries will experience serious fiscal crises. These crises will likely be especially severe in poor countries with a revenue basis depending disproportionately on international trade, foreign direct investment or foreign aid. We expect fiscal crises to further affect child labour through declining social protection.
Likewise, funding for other publicly provided goods—like health, education, and active labour market policies, and enforcement of labour market regulations—is likely to decline post-COVID-19. Each of these could have implications for child labour. Reductions in school fees, for example, have played a role in encouraging schooling, and there is evidence from India that the impact of negative economic shocks on child labour was muted in areas where schooling was more affordable. We also have evidence from Mexico and Senegal that child labour declines when school quality improves. If school fees increase or school quality deteriorates post-COVID-19, a further increase in child labour seems likely.
Affordable, gender-sensitive policy responses should be designed to help keep children in school and reduce reliance on child labour. Policy responses that risk exacerbating the looming increase in child labour, such as public works programmes, should be considered carefully. Particular attention should be paid to the period shortly after lockdowns when schools reopen. This will be a critical window to prevent children entering paid work and community-level action is needed to ensure that every child returns to school. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who lose a parent deserve special consideration and support.
Jacobus de Hoop is manager of humanitarian policy research at UNICEF Innocenti.Eric Edmonds is Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College. His research aims to improve policy directed at child labour, forced labour, and human trafficking.
https://stopchildlabor.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/logo.png00CLC Contributorhttps://stopchildlabor.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/logo.pngCLC Contributor2020-06-05 11:58:022022-11-07 06:11:06Why child labour cannot be forgotten during COVID-19
CLC members—the Ramsay Merriam Fund, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association—made this web site possible through their generous support.