COVID-19 and Child Labour: A time of crisis, a time to act


This report was jointly published by International Labour Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund, on June 12, 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic poses a serious threat to children worldwide, the report states, as they are likely to be pushed into exploitative and hazardous jobs due to increased economic insecurity and losses in household income. Child labour reinforces intergenerational poverty and denies the rights stipulated by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which United Nations adopted in November 1989. This report discusses the pandemic’s effect on child labour and includes measures to tackle the issue.

The 38-page report is divided into 11 chapters: Introduction (chapter 1); Falling living standards (chapter 2); Deteriorating employment (chapter 3); Rising informality (chapter 4); Declining remittances and migration (chapter 5); A looming credit crisis (chapter 6); Contracting trade and foreign direct investment (chapter 7); Shutting down schools (chapter 8); Compounding shocks to health (chapter 9); Pressure on public budgets and international aid flows (chapter 10) and Making the right choices – at the right time (chapter 11).


  1. In the last two decades, child labour has reduced by 94 million children worldwide. The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to reverse this progress.

  2. The number of people in extreme poverty – defined by World Bank as those living on less than $1.90 per day – could increase by 40 to 60 million in 2020 due to the pandemic. A single percentage point rise in poverty leads to at least a 0.7 percentage point increase in child labour, states the report.

  3. Global working hours fell by nearly 4.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, as compared to the final quarter of 2019. Parental unemployment due to economic shocks has led children to provide for their families in many countries, including Brazil, Guatemala, India, Mexico and Tanzania.

  4. In the past, economic shocks have led to growth in informal employment, as those who have been laid off from formal work seek alternative sources of income. The report states that child labour exists mainly in the informal sector, where children can easily join as unskilled workers.

  5. The global economic slowdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to reduce domestic and international remittances. International remittances account for a significant share of gross domestic product not only in many low-income countries such as Nepal (25.4 per cent) and Ethiopia (7 per cent), but also in middle-income countries such as Guatemala (12 per cent), Moldova (10 per cent), Sri Lanka (8 per cent) and Tunisia (5 per cent).

  6. The pandemic pushed a large number of migrant workers to return home. The report notes that the children of these families are more likely than others to engage in child labour.

  7. A credit crisis is likely to occur as a result of the pandemic, especially in poor countries. Credit contractions in high-income countries may further reduce its availability in poor countries. With formal and informal credit options unavailable, households in poor countries may become more desperate to find credit and take up such work as bonded labour.

  8. The pandemic caused a three per cent drop in global trade values in the first quarter of 2020. This is likely to result in diminished living standards and an increase in child labour.

  9. School closures due to Covid-19 have affected more than 90 per cent of those enrolled, about 1.6 billion students. Many schools have adopted online education, but nearly half of the world does not have internet connectivity. Several students are unable to access classes and more susceptible to be pushed into child labour.

  10. The rising number of Covid-19 deaths has led to a growing number of children being left without one or both parents, or other caregivers such as grandparents. Children deprived of family care are particularly vulnerable to child labour, trafficking and other forms of exploitation.

    Focus and Factoids by Rohan Datta.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


International Labour Organization; United Nations Children’s Fund


International Labour Organization; United Nations Children’s Fund


12 Jun, 2020