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Child labour rises to 160 million, with millions more at risk
by UNICEF, ILO, agencies
June 2021
The Appalling Increase in Child Labor, by Kailash Satyarthi for Project Syndicate.
For the first time in two decades, the number of child workers has increased. The shocking rise – from 152 million to 160 million worldwide, according to recent United Nations data – occurred in the four years that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic.
There can be absolutely no excuse for this. The world took its eyes off the target – namely, the promise we made to end child labor by 2025. Today, we have made a mockery of that promise. What is even more outrageous is that the increase in child labor occurred during a period when global wealth rose by $10 trillion.
The pandemic has revealed how fundamentally unequal our world has become. According to Forbes, a new billionaire has been created every 17 hours during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, an estimated 200 million adults globally will have lost their jobs, and the International Labour Organization warns that the COVID-19 crisis could push 8.9 million more children into child labor by 2022. And, given current trends, this number will only increase.
The world is thus facing not only a health crisis, but also a crisis of equality, justice, and morality. There is more than enough wealth for every child to be able to go to school instead of having to work to survive. The question is how we choose to share that wealth, and with whom.
So far, we have not given our children their fair share. But we can start to do so now. In view of the immediate crisis, world leaders must allocate to the poorest and most marginalized children their fair share of global wealth, channeling it through government budgets and official development assistance (ODA).
They must also introduce and bolster targeted policies (including law enforcement and legislation aimed at ending child labor) and social protection (including health care, education, access to clean drinking water, sanitation, and housing).
Social protection must emphasize direct child benefits that can provide immediate and effective support to move millions of children out of danger and into school.
Programs such as the Bolsa Família in Brazil, Midday Meals in India, and Child Grants in Zambia have demonstrated the positive impact of such payments. And child-focused social protection should complement greater investment in upholding the universal right to education and health, the rule of law, and decent work for adults – all of which remain critical to ending child labor.
Public services and welfare schemes helped to end child labor in wealthy countries decades ago. Today, social protection for citizens is a high priority in these countries and accounts for the largest share of domestic government expenditure. Extending such policies to the children most in need should thus also be a high priority in the advanced economies’ ODA budgets.
This year, the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor, the world’s wealthiest countries should establish a well-resourced global social protection fund, with the key element being direct assistance to the most marginalized and at-risk children.
The International Financing for Development Conference in September this year presents the perfect opportunity to announce this. Among G20 members, Argentina, France, and the European Union have already put their weight behind the proposal, and other countries must not miss this opportunity to stand on the right side of history.
Our children do not want to listen to good intentions anymore. They need urgent and bold action now.
Less wealthy countries also have a responsibility to increase budgetary allocations to establish and strengthen social-protection floors. They should ensure that every child is protected by a safety net of education, health care, clean water, sanitation, and adequate housing.
In doing so, policymakers must put children of agricultural and migrant workers first, as well as children on the move who already are at heightened risk. We must bring the last child to the front of the line.
That means understanding a child’s life, freedom, and future holistically. The perpetuation of child labor results in poor education and health care, leading in turn to intergenerational poverty.
It is well established that in certain countries, every 1% increase in poverty leads to an increase in child labor of at least 0.7%.
Ending child labor is achievable. We know the solution to child labor, and we have the wealth and knowledge to implement it. What we currently lack is political will.
Today, 160 million children are working at the cost of their education, freedom, and future, and millions more are at risk. But a childhood without exploitation should not be a privilege. Every child matters. As we heal and move forward from the pandemic, we must take all of them with us.
* Kailash Satyarthi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is the founder of Laureates and Leaders for Children, Honorary President of the Global March Against Child Labor, and the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement).
June 2021
The number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years – with millions more at risk due to the impacts of COVID-19, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF.
'Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward', released to mark World Day Against Child Labour warns that progress to end child labour has stalled, reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016.
The report points to a significant rise in the number of children aged 5 to 11 years in child labour, who now account for just over half of the total global figure. The number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work – defined as work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals – has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016.
“The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.
“Inclusive social protection allows families to keep their children in school even in the face of economic hardship. Increased investment in rural development and decent work in agriculture is essential. We are at a pivotal moment and much depends on how we respond. This is a time for renewed commitment and energy, to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labour.”
In sub-Saharan Africa, population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty, and inadequate social protection measures have led to an additional 16.6 million children in child labour over the past four years.
Even in regions where there has been some headway since 2016, such as Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, COVID-19 is endangering that progress.
The report warns that globally, 9 million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic. A simulation model shows this number could rise to 46 million if they don’t have access to critical social protection coverage.
Additional economic shocks and school closures caused by COVID-19 mean that children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while many more may be forced into the worst forms of child labour due to job and income losses among vulnerable families.
“We are losing ground in the fight against child labour, and the last year has not made that fight any easier,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
“Now, well into a second year of global lockdowns, school closures, economic disruptions, and shrinking national budgets, families are forced to make heart-breaking choices. We urge governments and international development banks to prioritize investments in programmes that can get children out of the workforce and back into school, and in social protection programmes that can help families avoid making this choice in the first place.”
Other key findings in the report include:
The agriculture sector accounts for 70 per cent of children in child labour (112 million) followed by 20 per cent in services (31.4 million) and 10 per cent in industry (16.5 million).Nearly 28 per cent of children aged 5 to 11 years and 35 per cent of children aged 12 to 14 years in child labour are out of school.
Child labour is more prevalent among boys than girls at every age. When household chores performed for at least 21 hours per week are taken into account, the gender gap in child labour narrows.
The prevalence of child labour in rural areas (14 per cent) is close to three times higher than in urban areas (5 per cent).
Children in child labour are at risk of physical and mental harm. Child labour compromises children’s education, restricting their rights and limiting their future opportunities, and leads to vicious inter-generational cycles of poverty and child labour.
To reverse the upward trend in child labour, the ILO and UNICEF are calling for:
Adequate social protection for all, including universal child benefits. Increased spending on quality education and getting all children back into school - including children who were out of school before COVID-19.
Promotion of decent work for adults, so families don’t have to resort to children helping to generate family income. An end to harmful gender norms and discrimination that influence child labour.
Investment in child protection systems, agricultural development, rural public services, infrastructure and livelihoods.
As part of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, the global partnership Alliance 8.7, of which UNICEF and ILO are partners, is encouraging member States, business, trade unions, civil society, and regional and international organizations to redouble their efforts in the global fight against child labour by making concrete action pledges:
* Business & Human Rights Resource Centre; Child Labour:

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75.6 million domestic workers still waiting for implementation of labour and social security laws
by ILO, WIEGO, HomeNet, Freedom United
June 2021 (ILO News)
Ten years after the adoption of an historic International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention that confirmed their labour rights, domestic workers are still fighting for recognition as workers and essential service providers.
Working conditions for many have not improved in a decade and have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new ILO report.
At the height of the crisis, job losses among domestic workers ranged from 5-20 per cent in most European countries, as well as Canada and South Africa. In the Americas, the situation was worse, with losses amounting to 25-50 per cent. Over the same period, job losses among other employees were less than 15 per cent in most countries.
Data in the report shows that the world’s 75.6 million domestic workers have suffered significantly, which in turn has affected the households that rely on them to meet their daily care needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated working conditions that were already very poor, the report says. Domestic workers were more vulnerable to the fallout from the pandemic because of long-standing gaps in labour and social protection. This particularly affected the more than 60 million domestic workers in the informal economy.
“The crisis has highlighted the urgent need to formalize domestic work to ensure their access to decent work, starting with the extension and implementation of labour and social security laws to all domestic workers,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.
A decade ago the adoption of the landmark Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) was hailed as a breakthrough for the tens of millions of domestic workers around the world – most of whom are women.
Since then there has been a little progress – with a decrease of 16 percentage points in the number of domestic workers who are wholly excluded from the scope of labour laws and regulations.
However, a large number of domestic workers (36 per cent) remain wholly excluded from labour laws, pointing to the urgent need to close legal gaps, particularly in Asia and the Pacific and the Arab States, where the gaps are largest.
Even where domestic workers are covered by labour and social protection laws, implementation remains a significant issue of exclusion and informality. According to the report, only one-in-five (18.8 per cent) domestic workers enjoy effective, employment-related, social protection coverage.
Domestic work remains a female-dominated sector, employing 57.7 million women, who account for 76.2 per cent of domestic workers. While women make up the majority of the workforce in Europe and Central Asia and in the Americas, men outnumber women in Arab States (63.4 per cent) and North Africa, and make up just under half of all domestic workers in Southern Asia (42.6 per cent).
The vast majority of domestic workers are employed in two regions. About half (38.3 million) can be found in Asia and the Pacific – largely on account of China – while another quarter (17.6 million) are in the Americas.
* Access the report:
June 2021
10 years since the Domestic Workers Convention - what's changed? (Freedom United)
Ten years have passed since the adoption of the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Domestic Workers (C189), but new findings from the UN agency suggest they have seen little progress.
In a new report, the ILO finds that the working conditions and social protections for the world’s 75.6 million domestic workers have scarcely improved—and in many cases have worsened as a result of the pandemic.
The ILO’s data shows that domestic workers have been among the hardest hit by the economic damage left by COVID-19, accounting for a disproportionate number of job losses.
Many domestic workers are also migrants, meaning their subsequent personal risks can be much greater, with their housing and immigration status often directly tied to their jobs.
Meanwhile, the high rate of informal work arrangements among domestic workers already places them at higher risk of exploitation and modern slavery than the general population.
Guy Ryder, the ILO Director-General, said the pandemic has underlined the vulnerability of domestic workers and the urgent need for action.
“Informal employment is characterized by poor working conditions, a lack of protection. And so, we find that the vulnerability of many domestic workers, earning their living behind closed doors and in private households, is that vulnerability is magnified by this condition of informality,” he said.
Ryder says the crisis highlights the need to formalize domestic work to ensure their access to decent work and laws that can protect their rights.
Slow ratification of C189, the most important international law regarding domestic worker’s rights, has been a major obstacle to progress.
Although C189 was lauded as a turning point when it was adopted in 2011, so far only 30 countries have ratified it, significantly limiting its impact.
Recognizing the key role the convention plays in safeguarding domestic workers’ rights worldwide and ending domestic slavery, Freedom United has been a vocal proponent of C189.
Feb. 2021
Help End Domestic Slavery.
People leave their homes every day to find jobs as domestic workers in the cities of our countries. Women make up by far most of those working in private homes, but what’s shocking is that a quarter of domestic workers are children,1 and the majority are aged under 14, with some starting work at just five years old.
Although domestic work need not be exploitative, it is isolated and so unprotected. Combined with the worker’s extreme dependency on an employer and a lack of rights, they are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
This is particularly true for children and migrant workers. Locked inside the homes of strangers, some domestic workers find themselves caught in the nightmare of modern slavery. They are deceived by false job offers and unscrupulous employers who extract their labor under threat, preventing contact with their families, and withholding their wages. Physical punishment, as well as sexual abuse, is not uncommon in domestic servitude.
But there is a global standard to protect domestic workers. It’s called Convention 189 and it sets out measures for governments to follow to better protect them.3 29 key countries have already signed4 on however momentum has slowed since it was introduced in 2011, and we need to push our governments to act.
Call on the Government of your country to ratify Convention 189 immediately and help protect children and adults from domestic slavery.
It’s not known how many thousands, or millions, of domestic workers, including children, have been trafficked into servitude.5 Poverty, rural-urban and cross-border migration, to deep-rooted practices like sending children to live elsewhere, as well as discrimination, are all factors that contribute to trafficking into domestic servitude.
Pham Thi Dao’s Story
Pham Thi Dao left Vietnam to become a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia where she was forced to work from 5am until 1am, beaten and given little food. “As soon as I arrived at the airport in Riyadh, they (employees from a Saudi company providing domestic workers) pushed me into a room with more than a hundred of others,” she said. “When my employer picked me up later, he took my passport and employment contract. Most women I’ve talked to here experience the same thing.”
In Haiti, restaveks are children who are sent to a host family by their biological families in the hope of a better life in exchange for doing chores. However, many are forced to work without pay, beaten, starved, cut off from their families and at high risk of physical and sexual abuse.
June’s Story
June was given away by her parents aged five to become a restavek. She was sent to the capital city, Port-au-Prince, eight hours away from her hometown, Jérémie, where she would endure over ten years of abuse. Promises from host families to provide her with an education would be repeatedly broken. Today, there are over 300,000 children like June in Haiti.
Latifa’s Story
Latifa was 12 years old when she was sent to work for a family in Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, as a petits bonnes or child domestic worker. Latifa worked 18-hour days caring for four children, cleaning and cooking without rest. She was allowed to eat at 7am and once more at midnight before going to bed, all whilst enduring physical abuse from her employer.
“I don’t mind working, but to be beaten and not to have enough food, this is the hardest part of it.” Luckily, Latifa managed to escape and rejoin her family but many of the thousands of children in domestic work in Morocco, some in domestic slavery, are trapped.
Around the world, there are tens of millions of domestic workers – millions of them children. Women make up 81% of national domestic workers and 73% of migrant domestic workers. If all domestic workers worked in one country, this country would be the tenth largest employer worldwide.
Domestic work is an important source of employment but the people behind these numbers are too often invisible behind the doors of private households and unprotected by national legislation. This allows for the worst types of abuse often amounting to modern slavery.
Tougher rules to protect domestic workers are long overdue. By sending a message to the Government of your country today you can help start a domino effect until all countries take action. 31 countries have already taken this step – will yours be next?
Countries that have ratified (as of December 2020):
Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Grenada, Guinea, Guyana, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mexico, Namibia, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay
* Call on your country to ratify C189 to help end domestic slavery:

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