Proper social security can save 15 million children from becoming child labour statistics in 2022 – Unicef

19 May 2022

Proper social security can save 15 million children from becoming child labour statistics in 2022 – Unicef


If most countries put proper social protection measures in place, child labour can decline by 15 million by the end of 2022, thus allowing a significant improvement in sustainable development goals (SDG) 8.7. - so said Mohamed Fall, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.

Fall, however, warned that the outlook for children trapped or at risk of being dragged into child labour does not look rosy.

“Children continue to suffer from income and employment losses, and also suffer from health shocks,” he said.

Fall was speaking during the plenary of the 5 th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour on the official launch of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report titled: “Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward”.

The report by the two co-custodians of target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals, describes the scale and key characteristics of child labour today, and its changes over time.

SGD Target 8.7 calls on all to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of all forms of child labour as an essential step to achieving decent work for all, full and productive employment and inclusive and sustained economic growth.

The report comes on the back of child labour being identified as a persistent problem in the world today. The report estimates that 160 million children – 63 million girls and 97 million boys – were in child labour globally at the beginning of 2020, accounting for almost 1 in 10 of all children worldwide. Seventy-nine million children – nearly half of all those in child labour – were in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development.

Key findings of the report were that:

  • Child labour is higher for boys than girls at all ages - Among all boys, 11.2 percent are in child labour compared to 7.8 per cent of all girls. In absolute numbers, boys in child labour outnumber girls by 34 million.
  • Child labour is much more common in rural areas - There are 122.7 million rural children in child labour compared to 37.3 million urban children. The prevalence of child labour in rural areas (13.9 per cent) is close to three times higher than in urban areas (4.7 per cent).
  • Most child labour – for boys and girls alike – continues to occur in agriculture - Seventy percent of all children in child labour, 112 million children in total, are in agriculture.
  • The largest share of child labour takes place within families - Seventy- two per cent of all child labour and 83 per cent of child labour among children aged 5 to 11 occurs within families, primarily on family farms or in family microenterprises. Family-based child labour is frequently hazardous despite common perceptions of the family as offering a safer work environment.

Global progress against child labour has stalled for the first time since we began producing global estimates two decades ago. In addition, without urgent mitigation measures, the COVID-19 crisis is likely to push millions more children into child labour.

“The school closures – experienced through the Covid-19 is going to increase the risk. To reverse this trend a multi-sectoral approach is critical and that approach means a strong social protection regime. Evidence is clear, social protection including child benefits have a potential to mitigate this risk of children sliding into child labour,” Fall said.

He was at pains that only 26,6 percent of children worldwide were receiving social protection.

According to the ILO-UNICEF report, child labour is more common in rural than in urban areas in almost all regions. It said Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of young children in child labour, while Latin America and the Caribbean have the largest share of older children.

The report cited the worst forms of child labour as comprising practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom, and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties; and work that, by its nature or circumstances, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

The 2020 ILO-UNICEF global estimates indicate a critical juncture in the worldwide effort against child labour.

“Global progress has ground to a halt over the last four years after having already slowed considerably in the four years before that. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis threatens to further erode past gains. In this United Nations International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, we must act with renewed urgency to put progress back on track,” the ILO-UNICEF report said.

Immediate steps are needed to avoid falling further behind during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic has clearly heightened the risk of child labour, above all through a sharp rise in poverty that may increase families’ reliance on child labour, and through school closures that deny families the logical alternative to sending children to work.

The report said to reduce these risks, there was a need for implementation of expanded income support measures for families in situations of vulnerability, child benefits and other means, which will be critical. So too will back-to-school campaigns and stepped-up remedial learning to get children back in the classroom.

“We are at a critical juncture in the worldwide drive to stop child labour. COVID-19 threatens to further erode past gains. While nearly 86 million fewer children are in child labour now than when we began measuring the phenomenon globally in 2000, recent trends affirm we have fallen far behind on our collective commitment to ending all forms by 2025.

The report calls for: special attention to address the heightened risk of child labour in growing crises, conflicts and disasters; addressing child labour risks in domestic and global supply chains; Sound policy choices and resource allocation; Governments will need to adopt creative resource mobilization strategies to expand their fiscal space; extending debt relief and debt restructuring in already heavily indebted
countries so that social spending is not crowded out by increasing debt service payments.

The conference will end on Friday with the adoption of a Durban Call to Action programme.