The UN made the observation in a statement issued to commemorate the World Day Against Child Labour marked annually on June 12.
It, however, appealed to governments to continue to invest in measures that have helped reduce the number of youngsters working, by 94 million, since 2000.
Existing global estimates indicate that 152 million children are being put to work, but the figure is due to be updated next year, once the wider impact of Coronavirus lockdown precautions become clearer.
The statement quoted Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), as saying: “As the pandemic wreaks havoc on family incomes, without support, many could resort to child labour.
“Social protection is vital in times of crisis, as it provides assistance to those who are most vulnerable.
“Millions more children risk being pushed into child labour as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, which could lead to the first rise in child labour after 20 years of progress.’’
Echoing that message, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, explained how child labour was “a coping mechanism for many families” in times of crisis.
“Quality education, social protection services and better economic opportunities can be game changers.
“Of particular concern is growing evidence that child labour has risen in line with school closures linked to the pandemic, with more than one billion youngsters in some 130 countries impacted to date.
“Even when classes restart, some parents may no longer be able to afford to send their children to school,” ILO and UNICEF warned in a joint statement.
They added that children “may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions” as the pandemic continues.
“More children could be forced into exploitative and hazardous jobs, (and) gender inequalities may grow more acute, with girls particularly vulnerable to exploitation in agriculture and domestic work.
“More worrying still, more may be forced into the worst forms of labour, as households use every available means to survive,” they warned.
Edited By: Tayo Ikujuni/Donald Ugwu (NAN)
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