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 In various countries around the world, minors have been considered “spared” by COVID-19: it is also for this reason, that they are put to work instead of adults.

The Covid-19 pandemic with its devastating effects has spared no industry, no social stratum or no generation. Both the elderly and the young have been and continue to be affected by this pandemic. While it is true that the elderly suffers the most from the virus (according to the official data), minors, although vulnerable, fare a little better in terms of health, but bear the weight at the social level.
One of the areas in which minors have been conditioned in their freedoms and the right to fully live their youth (outside of school, of course) is the labor sector.
The sad situation of child labor, common in many countries, especially in low-income countries, has been made worse by the Covid 19 that is sweeping the planet. The strategies developed at the international level and by different countries to contain the effects of child labor for several years, and which tended to give partially satisfactory results, taking into account the overall decrease in the number of minors engaged in hard labor, are being watered down because of the pandemic. We therefore fear a strong trend reversal. In its report published in 2016 on the situation of child labor in the world, the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported the decrease in the number of child workers from 245 million minors to 152 million over the period 2000-2016, that is to say a decrease of 38% in 16 years.

However, this satisfactory results risk being interrupted or even slowed down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the report Covid-19 and Child Labour: a Time of Crisis, a Time to Act, published in 2020, the ILO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) indicate the implications of the crisis in the deterioration of living conditions of millions of minors around the world. In this report, the two UN agencies highlight the main risk factors that could force minors to work harder. All the factors listed revolve around the economy which is precisely the emblematic factor. In fact, the Covid-19 pandemic has dampened the economy in almost every country in the world due to containment measures. Job vacancies are becoming scarcer, working hours have fallen dramatically, resulting in loss of income for millions of workers (345 million full-time job losses in 2020 according to the ILO report on falling wages).
Consequently, we assist at the decline of the standard of living, therefore several families can no longer meet the basic to live, but to survive. Thus exploiting “all the means of survival at their disposal.” And according to the ILO and UNICEF, one of the solutions available to those families is to make minors work.
The report estimates that “a 1 percentage point rise in poverty leads to at least 0.7 percentage point increase in child labour.” This means that the greater the poverty increases, the greater the risk that children will work to provide the needs of the family. Families are forced to live in extreme poverty, for the most part, obliged to withdraw their minor children from school (because they cannot afford to pay school fees), hence, to “transform” them into sources of income.
The report also notes that the lack of job prospects and the drop in wages following the pandemic are forcing workers to do underpaid jobs, “which can further suppress wages and in turn contribute to child labour.”
The most alarming aspect is that “compared to adults, children are more likely to accept work for less pay and work under  terrible conditions. And thus, businesses may deliberately recruit children to cut costs and boost earnings,” reveal the ILO and UNICEF.

In this period of almost generalized lockdown, the survival strategy developed by several parents is to let their children go out for them, the reason being that they are less visible than adults. Being considered spared from COVID-19, they are made to work instead of adults. They take care of sick loved ones, go shopping and engage in other activities that require them to violate quarantine measures. They supplement family income when adults cannot work, especially because they are less visible and less likely to be arrested by police, allowing them to bypass or ignore curfew measures.”

Beyond all this, the United Nations is determined to put an end to child labor in all its forms by 2025, as indicated in its sustainable development goals number 8 of the 2030 Agenda.

At the level of the SMA, if the fight against child labor has not taken a very obvious form, many elements such as the construction of educational facilities, promotion of education, campaigns against Illiteracy are all means which implicitly attest to the commitment of our members in the fight against this phenomenon.

In addition, some entities such as Ghana and Côte d’ivoire, to the best of my knowledge, are in the process of setting up committees to fight either against child labor or against child trafficking.

For the time being, with this pandemic that continues to rage as it is the case now, the situation of children forced into labor will go from bad to worse if nothing is done.

Brice Ulrich AFFERI