COVID-fuelled child labour crisis spurs call for global social protection fund

by Emeline Wuilbercq | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 22 September 2021 18:53 GMT

Kailash Satyarthi, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, takes part in a panel during the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting in New York, September 27, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Image Caption and Rights Information

Nobel peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi said $52 billion could provide cash payments to every child and pregnant woman in low-income countries

By Emeline Wuilbercq

ADDIS ABABA, Sept 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With thousands of children being forced into child labour every day, leading child rights activists on Wednesday called for a global social protection fund to stem the loss of a generation to COVID-19.

The pandemic has pushed many countries - from the United States to Rwanda - to spend trillions of dollars on short-term measures, including payments to businesses and poor families, to cushion their populations from economic shocks.

A fraction of this cash could be used to start a fund offering basic income like cash transfers to the poor, pensions for the elderly and disability, unemployment and child benefits, campaigners said at an online event.

"In the light of the pandemic, as we know that it has brought a disastrous impact on children, we have to be direct and swift because our children cannot wait," said Indian Nobel laureate and anti-child labour advocate Kailash Satyarthi.

"This is possible by providing social protection to all children in low-income countries who have been made to become more vulnerable to child labour, trafficking and slavery," said Satyarthi, founder of Laureates and Leaders for Children.

While the United Nations says the number of child labourers has increased to 160 million from 152 million in 2016, the world has at the same time become $10 trillion richer, according to the child rights initiative, set up by Satyarthi in 2016.

Developing regions, such as Africa which is home to most of the world's child labourers, have been hard hit as many workers do informal jobs without rights such as a minimum wage, often pushing children on to the streets to support their families.

"Social protection is absolutely fundamental," said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation.

"If we have a fund to build those social protection systems for the 55% of the world's people who have no social protection, and for the 72% who have little or no social protection, then it returns money and jobs to the economy," she said.

During the webinar, child rights advocates said the economic response to COVID-19 had been unjust and called for a fairer share of financial resources to go to the world's most marginalised children and families.

Backers of the global social protection fund say it can be funded by a combination of existing aid assistance from rich nations, increased taxation of firms and contributions from existing funds, along with debt relief or cancellation.

Satyarthi said that $52 billion could provide some social protection measures to every child and pregnant woman in low-income countries - a tiny percentage of what Europe spends each year on such programmes for its own population.

"The financial investment involved is absolutely possible, and absolutely necessary," said Guy Ryder, director-general of the U.N. International Labour Organization (ILO).

"Let's place social protection at the centre of our strategies and truly attack these root causes of child labour."

Related stories:

Child labour rises globally for the first time in decades

FACTBOX-Ten facts about rising child labour around the world

U.N. goal to end child labour by 2025 deemed impractical, out of touch

(Reporting by Emeline Wuilbercq; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.