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Combating Child Labor in the Age of COVID-19

World Day Against Child Labor

June 12 is World Day Against Child Labor. This year's theme is Children in Crisis.

The world’s crises are often acutely felt by the world’s children and the global COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Not only are children at risk of contracting the virus, but millions face an increased risk of being exploited for their labor, joining the 152 million children already engaged in child labor worldwide.

The risk to children is greater for a whole host of reasons, such as job loss or illness within their families, school closures, and decreased food security. These factors make it harder to keep children out of the workplace and in school where they belong.

Thankfully, there are organizations and individuals around the world who are helping.

The Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) is playing a role in combating child labor through our programming and policy work. As the world’s largest funder of programs to combat child labor around the globe, ILAB is in a position to make a real difference. In Mexico, for example, the World Vision-implemented Campos de Esperanza project is using leaflets, posters, and radio broadcasts to get the word out about the risks of COVID-19 to children and families working on sugar and coffee farms in remote communities, who in many cases lack access to basic news and information. In Colombia and Paraguay, Partners of the Americas is using text messaging and radio public service announcements to share information on identifying COVID-19 symptoms, and what to do if these symptoms are identified among workers.

In the policy realm, ILAB has suggested actions for governments and other stakeholders to take to protect children from being exploited during the pandemic. These include incorporating child labor education into broader COVID-19 awareness efforts, integrating materials about child labor in at-home learning resources, and training COVID-19 medical first responders about child labor exploitation.

Others are stepping up, too. This year, ILAB recognized Damon Wamara, executive director of Ugandan non-governmental organization Dwelling Places, as the recipient of the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2020 Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor. Mr. Wamara has worked tirelessly to end the exploitation of children trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and forced begging in Uganda.

These are but a few small examples. To make a notable difference requires meaningful action on the part of governments, businesses, civil society organizations and individuals around the globe. The world’s children are worth every effort to protect them in this time of crisis.

 

Martha Newton is the Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor.

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