Unicef Bangladesh yesterday raised concern over the growing number of children in the country being pushed into child labour, as schools are closed since March last year and poverty levels are rising amid the pandemic.
"Families are struggling to cope and using every available means to survive. We need to prioritise the needs of children and address the wider social issues that enable these harmful practices to continue," said Tomoo Hozumi, Unicef representative in Bangladesh, in a press release about a global report on child labour.
Globally, the number of children involved in labour has risen by 8.4 million and reached 160 million in the last four years, with millions more at risk due to Covid-19 impacts, says the new report by Unicef and International Labour Organization (ILO).
The report "Child Labour: Global Estimates 2020, Trends and the Road Forward", was released yesterday, ahead of World Day Against Child Labour on June 12.
Progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016, said the joint release issued yesterday marking the report's launch.
Bangladesh has made significant progress on child labour in recent decades, as data from Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) indicates a 50 percent reduction in child labour from 2003 to 2013. In 2003, 3.2 million children were estimated to be engaged in child labour, while in 2013, this figure had reduced to 1.7 million children.
However, it is alarming to note that in 2013, 1.2 million children were trapped in the worst forms of child labour, which involve hazardous working conditions, it says, adding planning was underway for ILO and BBS to produce an updated survey report on child labour by early 2022.
"Bangladesh must keep the fight against child labour at the top of the agenda, so that progress made in recent years is not lost," said Tuomo Poutiainen, ILO country director in Bangladesh.
The global report points to a significant rise in the number of children aged 5 to 11 years in child labour around the world, who now account for just over half of the total global figure.
"The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk," said ILO Director General Guy Ryder.
Child labour is more prevalent among boys than girls at every age, it says, adding the prevalence of child labour in rural areas (14 percent) is close to three times higher than in urban areas (5 percent).
"We are losing ground in the fight against child labour, and the last year has not made that fight any easier," said Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
To reverse the upward trend in child labour, ILO and Unicef called for adequate social protection for all, including universal child benefits.