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Impact of Crisis on Child Labour: Lessons from COVID-19

This World Day Against Child Labour 2020, it is becoming increasingly clear that the economic and social impacts of crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic, are systemic. Unfortunately, children, young workers and small-scale farmers in rural areas are among those most disproportionately affected.

In this article, we share the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic and suggest policy and practical measures that can be taken to ensure improved resilience of vulnerable populations to protect children from child labour in the event of future crises.

Maintaining education to protect children from child labour

At its peak in March and April 2020, over 1.1 billion students were affected by school closures. Online learning quickly became the norm for many students in urban areas. However, most children in rural agricultural communities and developing countries, do not have access to a computer or internet. These children often face an increased risk of child labour and poor skills growth due to the disruption in learning. In Mozambique for example, 99% of students do not have any home-based learning during the school closures.

When children cannot access school, many may drop out and become involved in hazardous work. To ensure education continuity and the protection of children from child labour in the event of future crises, the following five measures are required:

    1. Scaling up community literacy and numeracy programmes
    1. Bridging the digital divide by ensuring rural students’ access to distance or online classes
    1. Training rural teachers in ICT skills
    1. Setting up mobile rural libraries so that children have access to learning materials even when the schools are closed
    1. Making teaching and learning materials are affordable and accessible.

Protecting legally working young workers

The COVID-19 restrictions impacted economic activity globally. Young workers above the minimum age of employment (15-17 years) are particularly affected, many of them already close to or below the poverty line, are relatively inexperienced, have low savings and are involved in low-skilled jobs.

We recommend the following practical measures protect legally working young people in the event of future crises:

    1. More social protection schemes for all workers, including young workers, informal, casual, seasonal and migrant workers, and the self-employed
    1. Expansion of apprenticeship opportunities, re-training and employment retention schemes including short-time work arrangement
    1. Provision of financial relief, loans, grants, subsidies and other income smoothing measures for businesses and sectors legally employing young workers.

Protecting small farmers and their families

Smallholders make 90% of the world’s 570 million farms. Smallholder farmers provide more than 70 percent of the global food supply, contributing to food security, rural development and poverty reduction.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how crises can disrupt smallholders’ production and marketing activities, their incomes and livelihoods. To protect smallholders and their families in the event of future crises – so that they are better prepared to withstand, adapt to, and recover from shocks – the following measures are required:

    1. Strengthen rural producer organisations’ capacities in crisis response
    1. Establish alternative and flexible selling systems that permit farmers to access markets during crises
    1. Enabling mobile payment systems to prevent disruptions in delivery of cash entitlements in the event of crises
    1. Insert contract clauses that permit extension of payment due dates or alternative repayment accommodations to ease the pressure on farmers
    1. Introduce government procurement schemes that purchase agricultural commodities from smallholders to strategic buffer stocks in the event of crisis-induced market failures
    1. Scaling up village savings and loan schemes so that farmers have savings and easy access to affordable credit
    1. Extending stimulus packages to smallholder farmers.

Continued commitment to fight child labour

To build the resilience of rural communities to the threat posed by COVID-19, ECLT and its network of partners have developed context specific activities, in line with the recommendations above, to complement on-going programmes to fight child labour.

Come back next week when we will share updates from our project countries and the measures we are taking to protect children from child labour during and after the COVID-19 crisis.