11 June 2021

COVID-19 Threatens to Push Another 9 Million Minors into Child Labour by 2022, Deputy Secretary-General Warns, Calls for Protection, Multi-Sector Responses

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the high-level event on the elimination of child labour, held today:

This high-level event falls on the eve of the World Day against Child Labour.  In prior years, this observance often brought encouraging news.  From 2000 to 2016, Member States reduced child labour by almost 100 million children, from 246 [million] to 152 million.

Today, we instead reflect on a different reality.  The new global estimates published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicate 160 million in child labour, the first increase since we started counting.

Half of these children are in hazardous work that puts their safety, health and sometimes even their lives at risk.  Many suffer from violence when they work in the fields, in mines, in private homes or in informal manufacturing.  Children who are in forced labour, trafficked or recruited for armed conflict are particularly at risk of violent treatment.

COVID-19 threatens to push another 9 million into child labour by the end of 2022, due to the expected increase in poverty.  Children aged 5 to 11 account for more than half of the predicted rise.  Their education is compromised by school closures and inequalities in access to digital learning platforms.  Bridging the digital divide is an urgent priority:  Internet access and ICT equipment must be available to all children.

The trajectory these trends will take depends on the policy choices we make today.  The 2030 Agenda and the Decade of Action offer an opportunity to make long-term gains for children left behind, including those in street situations who face multiple deprivations.

The elimination of child labour requires multisectoral responses that include the private sector and local Governments.  Market conditions in rural economies are a crucial driver of low family incomes and child labour.  To make progress in numbers, this is where to start.

COVID-19 stimulus packages must prioritize child protection, with social protection floors providing a cushion against financial and health shocks.  This can make the difference between families keeping their children in school or sending them to work.

Meanwhile, responsible business conduct can help support children and families, and ensure that child labour incidents are reported to child protection and labour inspectorate systems.

Discrimination is another important factor.  It is no coincidence that the rate of child labour is exceptionally high among indigenous or migrant children.

In conflict and humanitarian settings, investments in community-based reintegration programmes are required to break the cycle of violence and prevent the re-recruitment of children into armed conflict.  That includes support to family tracing, alternative care, education, vocational training, mental health and psychosocial support packages.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, provide the legal framework to prevent violations.  While the ILO Convention enjoys universal ratification, I encourage all Member States to ratify the Optional Protocol without further delay.

During this International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, we have an opportunity to scale up our efforts and investments toward the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal target 8.7.  As we look to the Fifth Global Conference next year in South Africa, let us press forward with greater coordination, commitments, and action to protect every child.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.