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.
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.