Conversation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has seemed to center heavily on the personal experiences of those most impacted – what was lost, gained, or will be coming back as countries across the world resume “normal” operations. The world is beginning to assess the systemic impact of COVID-19 and people are looking beyond themselves to a certain truth: things will never be the same as they once were, and to the extent that particular aspects of the past can return, the recovery process will be long and must begin immediately. The role and place that young people have at this crossroads is crucial; we must look out for both current and future generations to ensure that this period is one of revival and progress, rather than a step backwards.
In no area is this more important than in fighting child labor. For the past 20 years, the rate of child labor has been declining, with the number of children in child labor falling by 94 million between 2000 and 2016. Yet 2020 saw that sall stop, raising alarms that the world was on the precipice of seeing the practice of child labor begin to rise again. This information was compiled in the International Labour Organization’s Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward report, and it highlights these concerning estimates. The pandemic is one large cause for this upwards trend, especially in low-income regions around the globe. The ILO report’s estimates explain that upwards of nine million children are likely to be pushed into child labor due to pandemic related economic shocks and school closures by the end of 2022. If the global community does not take adequate steps to fix the harm that has been done to the already fragile and inadequate social programs that provide for children and their families, 46 million more children will be in child labor by the end of 2022, a complete reversal of two decades worth of trends.
Such numbers are daunting and raise essential questions for us: these are forces completely beyond our immediate control, what can we possibly do? Would not the worst-case scenario be the most likely? Giving up on the 160 million children in child labor is not an option, as is jeopardizing Sustainable Development Goal 8 and the role the elimination of child labor has in its success. The ILO’s solutions are clear and concise; the provision of universal child benefits, increased social spending on education, investment in rural development and infrastructure are all measures every country should support.
As the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many opportunities to directly address the root causes of child labor. Through international investment in the strengthening of social protections and guaranteeing every child their fair share of resources, policies, and protections, the numbers outlined in the ILO’s report can be reversed entirely. Young people everywhere can lobby for these policies to our governments. If we want to ensure that child labor is eradicated by 2025, now is the time to demand action! Take the first step and send this letter to your Member of Congress today to stand up for children trapped in child labor.