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The Resurgence of Child Labor


An unfortunate side effect of the pandemic globally has been the rushing back of child labor after decades of decline.

In 2020, the world marked a rise in child labor for the first time in two decades. Additionally, with the coronavirus pandemic upending economies and closing schools, the United Nations believes by 2022, the problem will get much worse.

An estimated 160 million children were involved in child labor around the world at the beginning of 2020–an increase of 8.4 million in four years,according to a new report by the UN and the International Labour Organization (ILO). About half of those children were involved in hazardous work, like mining and farm work, that directly endangered their health and safety.

Children between the ages of five to 11 now account for just over half of the total global figure.

“The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in a statement.

COVID-19 has already been linked to children working longer hours or under worsening conditions because of job and income losses among vulnerable families. But by the end of 2022, nine million additional young people could be pushed into child labor because of the pandemic, the report says.

The biggest problem here is a globalized system of capitalism that constantly presses wages down in poor nations, incentivizing child labor when paying people slightly more for the products they send around the world would be a serious incentive to send their children to school. Of course, the specifics of school shutdowns in the pandemic was a huge hiccup that was going to lead to some regression on this. But the situation, like everything else with the COVID disaster, was created by an already unequal society, both nationally and globally. We could do much more as Americans to fight against the use of child labor in our products, but we fundamentally don’t care so long as the products arrive on time, at a cheap price, and in a nice package. These issues of trade and global labor conditions just aren’t part of our politics, but they must be and they most definitely could be.

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