COVID-19 could push millions more children into child labour, in every sector, in every country.
Up to 71% of all child labour is in agriculture, which is why it is particularly critical that we continue to support rural communities to fight child labour during the COVID-19 crisis. Schools have had to close and in remote areas many households do not have access to electricity let alone internet. With millions of children out of school, many of them end up doing dangerous work on farms.
During these past few months, getting produce to markets became extremely difficult for farm workers. In some areas, farmers lost a weekly cash flow of nearly 50%. When farmers and their families struggle to earn a living, they often have no choice but to send their children to work in the fields.
In this difficult time, the ECLT Foundation has been partnering with local and national capacities, like Farmers’ Associations for example, to share important information about the virus and its potential impact on child labour, to protect lives, secure food supply chains and support rural livelihoods.
ECLT & ITGA: Together We Care
Farmer representation is of significant value in ECLT’s work, and the Foundation has closely collaborated with International Tobacco Growers’ Association for nearly 20 years.
As of April 2020, ECLT has been working with the ITGA to reach more communities in the fight against child labour in the context of COVID-19. ITGA spoke with farmers around the world to understand their needs and to develop tailored messaging about maintaining safe and ethical farming practices during the outbreak. ECLT and ITGA drew from these consultations to create posters, T-Shirts, signs, and other communication materials on how to prevent child labour and on WHO approved recommendations on how to keep healthy and safe from COVID-19. These were disseminating to rural communities in five countries, reaching over 150,000 people.
“This is a new environment for all the countries, and the capacity to adapt and put in place a prevention plan will be key to overturn the situation to a lesser uncontrollable one, especially in countries with a fragile health and infrastructure system,” state ITGA.
This is why it was critical for ECLT to double down on child labour fighting initiatives and awareness raising throughout this period of heightened risk.
Reaching more in Malawi
Partnering with TAMA’s Farmer’s Trust, ECLT supported a holistic yet systemic approach to tackling the root causes of child labour during a pandemic. In an initial phase, meetings coordinated with District Labour Committees explored appropriate and thorough approaches to implementing programmes whilst ensuring that these took into account the very real consequences and restrictions of COVID-19.
Five categories of messages were identified, targeting children, parents and guardians, employers, traditional leaders (chiefs), and teachers. The messages included preventive measures, such as washing hands with soap regularly, keeping social distance and avoiding crowded places; and a call to action to protect children from abuse and child labour, as well as the role of parents in supporting their children to continue learning while at home. All of the messages were made available in the local language and aired on public radio. These reached a widespread audience without gathering crowds and respecting COVID-19 prevention measures. These methods aligned with the Governments National response plan and reached over 140,000 community members in rural and remote areas.
TAMA and ECLT’s implementing partners in Malawi also donated soaps, disinfectants, and hand washing stations to community centres and schools for when they are able to open once again.
Remaining committed to fighting child labour during COVID-19
ECLT remains cautious and concerned for the communities with whom we work. We continue to collaborate with partners and staff to follow international and national guidelines on the COVID-19, keeping the best interest of children at the heart of all our work.