Published: 11:07, June 14, 2023 | Updated: 11:07, June 14, 2023
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Alarm as child labor cases surge in Africa
By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya

About 160 million children globally are still being put under child labor, with estimates indicating that 86.6 million children are affected in sub-Saharan Africa alone, according to the International Labour Organization.

According to joint research by the ILO and the United Nations Children's Fund released on Monday to mark World Day Against Child Labor, almost 24 percent of all children in the African region, or close to 1 in 4, are in child labor.

"There are now more children in child labor in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world combined. Global child labor goals will not be achieved without a breakthrough in this region," the study indicated.

Gilbert Houngbo, ILO's director-general, said that for the first time in 20 years, child labor is on the rise globally and the most effective solutions to the child labor emergency are decent work for adults and improved social protection so that they can provide for their families.

"Child labor rarely happens because parents are bad, or do not care. Rather, it springs from a lack of social justice," Houngbo said.

The study revealed that most of those in child labor on the African continent and around the world work in agriculture. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization also said agriculture accounts for 70 percent of child labor globally and that the number of youngsters working in the sector is on the rise.

The research cites conflicts, crises and the COVID-19 pandemic as reasons for an increase in child labor. As a result, more families have been plunged into poverty and this has forced millions more children into child labor.

Multiple factors

"Population growth, recurring crises, extreme poverty and inadequate social protection measures have led to an additional 17 million girls and boys engaging in child labor in sub-Saharan Africa over the past four years," Houngbo said.

According to the study, not all work is considered child labor and age-appropriate tasks that are not hazardous and do not interfere with a child's education can be positive for the family and even contribute to the intergenerational transfer of valuable skills that will boost food security for families.

"For most children in sub-Saharan Africa though, the work, particularly in agriculture, goes beyond the limits of safety and well-being and crosses into a form of labor that can harm their health or educational opportunities," the study said.

The ILO describes child labor as any work or economic activity that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular schools, and is mentally, physically, socially or morally harmful.

Multiple points of crisis were also identified as contributing factors to high levels of child labor in sub-Saharan Africa. The region has the majority of fragile and conflict-affected countries, with at least one-quarter of all countries being fragile or in conflict every year from 2015 to 2020.