The coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of the world’s poorest children to interrupt their studies and go to work to help their familybecause schools have closed and parents’ incomes have fallen or disappeared.
Children do heavy, dirty and often dangerous jobs: transporting bricks or gravel, picking up recyclable materials, begging or cutting weeds in the plantations. Much of their employment is illegal.
This is a catastrophic change for some of the world’s most vulnerable people, reversing years of progress in education and fighting child labor, and undermining their chances of lifting themselves out of poverty. Countless promising students have seen their studies cut short, and it is still unclear when the schools will reopen. But even when they do, many children are unlikely to return to class.
Here are some key findings from a New York Times report on the living conditions of these poor children.
The work is often dangerous and illegal.
Former students were forced to do heavy manual labor at construction or demolition sites, picking up trash, doing sex work, mining sand, or working in factories manufacturing cigarettes or fireworks.
Jobs carry the risk of injury, or worse, and the dangers are particularly acute for children, especially when they lack protective gear or even shoes. In the Indian town of Tumakuru, an 11-year-old boy, Rahul, left barefoot with his father one recent morning to collect recyclables from a landfill.
India has the world’s largest school-age population and the fastest growing number of coronavirus cases. The country’s laws prohibit anyone under the age of 14 from working under most circumstances, but its poverty means it had a large illegal child labor market even before the pandemic.
With the problem growing and the government disrupted by the virus, law enforcement is even less able to keep pace.
The increase in child labor is also exacerbating other threats to children resulting from the global recession. Hunger now threatens many more people in many parts of the world than a year ago. Forced marriages, teenage pregnancies and child trafficking have also increased.
Millions of children are unlikely to return to school.
The longer children stay in school and the more desperate their family situation, the less likely they are to return. The United Nations estimates that 24 million children have dropped out of school permanently due to the pandemic.
With school closings around the world affecting more than a billion children, many may continue to learn online or at home. But hundreds of millions come from the poorest families, without access to computers, the Internet or guardians.
Going back to school becomes increasingly difficult as children age and their families become dependent on their income – and no one yet knows whether this addiction will last for months or years.
“I’m afraid that even if school reopens, I will have to keep doing it, because of the family debt,” said Mumtaz, a 12-year-old boy in Bihar state in India, who now works with heavy loads of gravel.
Families are desperate and wages are falling.
Reluctant parents say the only alternative to making their children work is for families to go hungry.
With hundreds of millions of people out of work around the world, the law of supply and demand leads to cruel calculations. Struggling businesses take advantage of the labor glut, driving down wages for those who still have jobs.
As families get poorer, children enter the workforce, amplifying the surplus labor. And unscrupulous employers flout labor laws, hiring children who often work for pennies.
An entrepreneur from West Bengal in India said parents asked him to find work for children as young as 8, who looked “ready to be thrown into a fire”.
Decades of progress are at risk.
Around the world, poverty has been declining for decades, especially in Asia, allowing more and more children to stay in school. The pandemic has reversed these trends.
Large numbers of students forced to leave the classroom and go to work were doing well academically, fueling dreams of a better future. These dreams are now in jeopardy.
Rahul, the 11-year-old boy from Tumakuru, wants to be a doctor and his teacher says he is bright enough to achieve that goal. But the more he is not educated, the more distant it becomes.
In India and many other countries, the focus has been on reopening businesses to restart the economy, but children’s advocates say opening bars, restaurants and restaurants is short-sighted. transit systems while keeping schools closed.