The pandemic and child labor

The pandemic and child labor


The COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on children all over the world. From lack of access to education, to increased violence in the home, the lockdowns have represented a global setback for children’s rights, with devastating consequences. They have also exposed the blatant inequalities plaguing children, especially those who are born in poverty.

On June 12, the World’s Day Against Child Labor, Human Rights Watch issued a statement highlighting how COVID-19 was threatening to erase the progress in fighting child labor, which had fallen around 40% globally in the past two decades. However, the economic crisis caused by the pandemic and the closure of schools are pushing children to enter the labor force once again:

“Research shows children out of school are far more likely to join the workforce, and the longer they stay out of school, the less likely they are to return. Child labor is also closely linked to financial shocks experienced by individual families. As parents lose their jobs, fall sick, or die, children will go to work to try to meet their basic needs. Covid-19-related emergency measures may also mean that labor inspectors, civil society organizations, and social workers are less likely to detect child labor and intervene.”

Why the pandemic is putting children at risk

The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action released a technical note explaining why children are now more at risk of labor exploitation due to COVID-19. These reasons included the close of schools and lack of adequate access to remote learning, which forced children to spend more time at time; family financial problems due to death, illness or job loss as a result of lockdowns and quarantine; lack of government oversight and monitoring of exploitation, which could be caused by weaker and overburdened States focusing on combating COVID-19; isolation from support networks, such as friends and peers; family separation, caused by hospitalization, quarantine, isolation, migration or death; myths and falsehoods about COVID-19, which ignore the risk it poses for children.

Another reason why children are more exposed to exploitation is due to gender roles being reinforced in the home: while girls must struggle with care responsibilities, boys are expected to become breadwinners and provide for their families.

It is also concerning that services run by government or civil society provided to child victims of labor exploitation were either closed or significantly reduced during lockdowns, therefore the basic needs of  children already identified as victims were not taken into consideration.

Global issues pushing children to exploiters

UNICEF and ILO published a brief regarding child labor and COVID-19, in which they identified the main problems facing nations which contribute to a rise in child labor. These included falling living standards, deteriorating employment for parents (which forces children to join the labor force in order to make ends meet), rising informality, declining remittances and migration, a looming credit crisis, decrease in trade and foreign direct investment, shutting down schools, compounding shocks to health, and, finally, pressure on public budgets and international aid flows. In short, not only are children and their families poorer, their working conditions are also less monitored and allowed to deteriorate, causing their human rights to be less respected, and the global crisis threatens to stifle economic and social development for years to come.

All these macro-economic and social problems have a deep negative impact for children worldwide, which suddenly find themselves without proper support and a bleak future. Traffickers and exploiters, however, are happy to take advantage of these children, and use their despair to increase their profits.

Ambitious measures are urgently needed to ensure children’s rights

As the pandemic continues to punish vulnerable families and workers all over the world, researchers and human rights defenders are demanding better social protection schemes to ensure people, especially children, will not be left behind.

A joint statement by ILO and UNICEF summarizes the main factors driving child labor during the pandemic:

“Vulnerable population groups – such as those working in the informal economy and migrant workers – will suffer most from economic downturn, increased informality and unemployment, the general fall in living standards, health shocks and insufficient social protection systems, among other pressures.

Evidence is gradually mounting that child labor is rising as schools close during the pandemic. Temporary school closures are currently affecting more than 1 billion learners in over 130 countries. Even when classes restart, some parents may no longer be able to afford to send their children to school.

As a result, more children could be forced into exploitative and hazardous jobs. Gender inequalities may grow more acute, with girls particularly vulnerable to exploitation in agriculture and domestic work”.

To tackle these problems, ILO and UNICEF recommend a series of measures to combat child labor, which include “more comprehensive social protection, easier access to credit for poor households, the promotion of decent work for adults, measures to get children back into school, including the elimination of school fees, and more resources for labour inspections and law enforcement”.

Ensuring children’s rights during a pandemic can be a hard task, but it should still be an utmost priority. Otherwise, countries are risking sacrificing an entire generation of children and young people, setting back great advances in education, girls’ and women’s rights, health, and labor. There will be no economic or social recovery as long as children remain out of classrooms and are forced to work to support their families.


If you recognize
that someone is a victim of human trafficking,
not to be silent and turn a blind eye!


Call and report the criminal offense of human trafficking via:

Citizens Association for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and All Forms of Gender-Based Violence

SOS hotline: +381 61 63 84 071


This campaign is a part of the project "Prevention and Combating Human Trafficking in Serbia" conducted within the joint program of the European Union and the Council of Europe "Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey II" which is implemented by the Council of Europe. The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of either party.​