The devastating impact of COVID-19 as seen in the reduction of incomes and high levels of economic insecurity in families, could generate a significant increase in the number of children and adolescents in child labour in Latin America and the Caribbean. This warning comes from an analysis by ECLAC and ILO that considers it imperative to take measures to prevent this situation.
The Technical Note from the two organizations, published in the framework of the commemoration of the International Day against Child Labour this June 12 states, "The slowdown in production, unemployment, low social protection coverage, lack of access to social security and higher levels of poverty are conditions that favour the increase in child labour."
The document adds, "The indicators of child labour and hazardous adolescent work could increase significantly if measures and strategies are not implemented to reduce the impact."
An analysis that initially covered three countries (Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica), based on the results of the Child Labour Risk Identification Model (CLRISK) developed by ECLAC and ILO, estimates that child labour could increase by 1 and 3 percentage points in the region.
According to the analysis, "this would imply that at least between 109,000 and 326,000 children and adolescents could enter the labour market, adding to the 10.5 million that are already in child labour at present."
The document recalls that the percentage of children and adolescents between 5 and 17 years of age in child labour in Latin America and the Caribbean fell from 10.8% in 2008 to 7.3% in 2016, which is equivalent to a decrease of 3.7 million children in that situation, up to the current indicator of 10.5 million.
The ECLAC and ILO Technical Note forecasts that, "the increase in unemployment and poverty will severely affect the well-being of families, particularly those in conditions of extreme poverty who tend to live in inadequate housing."
Furthermore, “one of the main factors of insecurity and economic instability in households is that the head of the household works in informal conditions, where social protection is minimal and employment contracts are non-existent, so child labour becomes an important component of how households handle economic insecurity.”
It goes on to warn that the temporary closure of schools is another factor that has the potential to increase child labour.
The analysis emphasises that “Now more than ever, children and adolescents must be at the centre of action priorities that, as a whole and through tripartite social dialogue, offer answers to consolidate progress in reducing child labour, especially in its worst forms.”
It argues that, in a situation where there is reduction of the fiscal space of the states, the prevention approach continues to be the most cost-efficient. Once the child is in child labour, it is much more complex and expensive to withdraw them from the activity or intervene to restore their rights.
The Technical Note proposes interventions for:
- Effective prevention.
- Identification and location of working children and adolescents.
- Restitution of the rights of working children and adolescents and their families.
The analysis also proposes the establishment of cash transfers, in line with ECLAC's proposal to implement a basic emergency income for six months for all persons in poverty during 2020, including children and adolescents.
Data from the countries indicate that in a large part of Latin America and the Caribbean cases of coronavirus continue to rise, and therefore the pandemic containment measures recommended by PAHO/WHO in public health, such as hand washing, respiratory etiquette, social distancing, avoiding interpersonal contact and staying home, remain in effect.
The ILO and ECLAC, together with other organizations, are collaborating with the Regional Initiative for Latin America and the Caribbean Free of Child Labour, to generate knowledge that will inform and provide evidence that contributes to policy decision-making for the sustained prevention and eradication of child labour in the region.