The world has marked the first rise in child labour in two decades and the coronavirus crisis threatens to push millions more youngsters toward the same fate, the United Nations said yesterday.
In a joint report, the International Labour Organization and the UN children's agency UNICEF said the number in child labour stood at 160 million at the start of 2020 -- an increase of 8.4 million in four years.
The hike began before the pandemic hit and marks a dramatic reversal of a downward trend that had seen child labour numbers shrink by 94 million between year 2000 and 2016, it said.
Just as the Covid-19 crisis was beginning to pick up steam, nearly one in 10 children globally were stuck in child labour, with sub-Saharan Africa the worst affected.
The report warned that unless urgent action is taken to help ballooning numbers of families plunging into poverty, nearly 50 million more kids could be forced into child labour over the next two years.
"We are losing ground in the fight to end child labour," UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore told reporters, stressing that "the Covid-19 crisis is making a bad situation even worse."
"Now, well into a second year of global lockdowns, school closures, economic disruptions, and shrinking national budgets, families are forced to make heart-breaking choices."
A full 79 million children were considered to be doing hazardous work at the start of 2020, up 6.5 million from four years earlier, the report showed.
The study revealed that most child labour is concentrated in the agriculture sector, which accounts for 70 percent of the global total, or 112 million children. Some 20 percent of child labour meanwhile happens in the service sector and around 10 percent in industry, it found.