The coronavirus pandemic is threatening the future of a generation of the world’s children, depriving them of schooling and sending them to work. Across the developing world, two decades of gains against child labour are eroding.
With classrooms shuttered and parents losing their jobs, children are trading their ABC’s for the D of drudgery: Reading, writing and times tables are giving way to sweat, blisters and fading hopes for a better life.
Instead of going to school, children in Kenya are grinding rocks in quarries. Tens of thousands of children in India have poured into farm fields and factories. Across Latin America, kids are making bricks, building furniture and clearing brush, once after-school jobs that are now full-time work.
These children and adolescents are earning pennies or at best a few dollars a day to help put food on the table.
“Child labour becomes a survival mechanism for many families.” says Astrid Hollander, UNICEF’s head of education in Mexico.
Governments are still analysing how many students have dropped out of their school systems, but with school closures affecting nearly 1.5 billion children around the world, UNICEF estimates the numbers could be in the millions.
Experts say the longer their education is put on hold, the less likely children will return to school. The ramifications, especially for those already lagging, can be lifelong — narrowed job opportunities, lower potential earnings and greater likelihood of poverty and early pregnancy.
“The repercussions could be felt in economies and societies for decades to come,” Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, warned in August. For at least 463 million children whose schools closed, there is no possibility of remote learning.
It is, she said, a “global education emergency.”
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.)
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