Children Forced into Child Labour: A Disturbing Global Trend

Child labour has reached a critical moment as more children are being pushed into work, risking their future and denying them access to education. Gilbert Houngbo, the director-general of the International Labour Organization (ILO), warns that regions around the world are experiencing a regression in child labour prevention due to global economic problems. This alarming trend is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and rising living costs. Urgent action is required to address the root causes and prevent further deterioration of the situation.
According to data from the UN in 2020, approximately 160 million children were trapped in child labour, and progress in eradicating this issue had stagnated for the first time in two decades. Early data suggests that this concerning trend is continuing, raising concerns about the future of millions of children worldwide.
One of the major drivers behind the increase in child labour is the rising cost of living and the squeeze on families’ budgets. This is particularly evident in low-, middle-, and high-income countries, where families are struggling to afford basic necessities like food and education. In extreme cases, parents are resorting to pushing their children into sex work to help support the family. This form of child labour is one of the worst, leading to devastating long-term consequences for the victims.
The impact of these circumstances is harshly felt by children themselves. In one instance, a 14-year-old girl from Mombasa, Kenya, was forced to engage in various activities such as sex work, clothes washing, and hair plaiting to earn money for her family’s survival. The dire economic situation forced her mother, who had lost her job during the pandemic, to make the difficult decision of pushing her daughter into such work. The girl’s hunger often prevents her from concentrating in school, highlighting the detrimental effects of child labour on education.
Not only are children being exploited in high-risk sectors like agriculture, mining, and construction, but the problem also spans multiple income levels. Poverty emerges as the underlying cause of child labour globally, perpetuating a cycle that is difficult to break. Inflation and the rising cost of living only exacerbate the situation, leading families to resort to negative coping strategies and impossible choices that harm children’s well-being in both the short and long term.
The impact of economic difficulties on children is not limited to a specific country or region. Various countries, including Lebanon, have seen an alarming rise in child labour as families face economic collapse. Children in Lebanese cities like Sidon are dropping out of school to support their families. Dreams of education and future careers are fading as young boys like Muhammad, who sells tissues on the road, are suffocating under the burden of providing for their families.
Despite the disheartening situation, there is room for optimism. Gilbert Houngbo highlights that tailored solutions are necessary, focusing on education, job creation, and cracking down on illicit industries. Governments must step up their efforts to combat child labour and prioritize policies that address the root causes of poverty and inequality. Only by taking decisive action now can we prevent further deterioration of the situation and secure a better future for millions of children around the world. It is imperative that global stakeholders, including governments, organizations, and communities, unite their efforts to protect the rights and well-being of children and eradicate child labour for good.