Despite two decades of global progress, child labor could see uptick amid coronavirus

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Two decades of global progress in reducing child labor could be jeopardized by the coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations said on Friday, warning that millions more children were at risk of being put to work.

Children who were already working before the pandemic may now be facing longer hours and worse conditions, while others could be forced to work by families struggling to survive the economic downturn, according to a report by two UN agencies.

The number of child laborers worldwide has dropped significantly to 152 million children from 246 million in 2000, the UN children’s agency (UNICEF) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) said to mark World Day Against Child Labor.

Yet the pandemic could spur the first uptick in child labor in 20 years, according to the United Nations.

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“As the pandemic wreaks havoc on family incomes, without support, many could resort to child labor,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in a statement.

Across the world, nearly one tenth of all children are engaged in child labor, and about half of those work in dangerous sectors such as construction, agriculture, mining and brick and stone manufacturing.

Boys are more likely to work than girls, with 58 percent of child laborers being boys.

Globally, most children working are found in Africa, where 72.1 million children work. In Asia and the Pacific, the number of child laborers is 62.1 million and in the Americas there are 10.7 million. There are 5.5 million children working in Europe and Central Asia, and 1.2 million in the Arab states.

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