Children in Ghana, Nepal, Uganda Describe Grueling Hours, Low Pay
The researchers interviewed 81 working children, some as young as 8, in Ghana, Nepal, and Uganda.
The unprecedented economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, together with
school closures and inadequate government assistance, is pushing children into
exploitative and dangerous child labor, Human Rights Watch said in a report
released today in advance of the World Day against Child Labor on June 12,
Governments and donors should prioritize cash allowances to families to
protect children’s rights and enable families to maintain an adequate standard
of living without resorting to child labor.
The 69-page report, “‘I Must Work to Eat’:
Covid-19, Poverty, and Child labor in Ghana, Nepal, and Uganda
co-published with Initiative for Social and
(ISER) in Uganda, and Friends
of the Nation
Researchers examined the rise in child labor and
poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the pandemic’s impact on children’s
rights. Children described working long, grueling hours for little
pay after their parents lost jobs or income due to the Covid-19 pandemic
and associated lockdowns. Many described hazardous working conditions, and
some reported violence, harassment, and pay theft.
“Many children feel they have no
choice but to work to help their families survive, but a rise in child labor is
not an inevitable consequence of the pandemic,” said Jo Becker
rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
“Governments and donors should
scale up cash allowances to families to keep children out of exploitative and
dangerous child labor and protect children’s rights to education and an
adequate standard of living.”
The researchers interviewed 81
working children, some as young as 8, in Ghana
, and Uganda
. The children worked at brick
kilns, carpet factories, gold mines, stone quarries, fisheries, and in
Some work as mechanics, rickshaw drivers, or in construction,
while others sell items on the street.
The vast majority of children
interviewed said that the pandemic and associated lockdowns had negatively
affected their family income.
Their parents lost jobs when businesses shut
down, lost access to markets due to transportation restrictions, or lost
customers due to economic slowdowns. Many children entered the workforce for
the first time to help support their families.
Some said they decided to work
because their families didn’t have enough food. Some kept working even after
the situation eased.
I started working because we were so badly off,” a 13-year-old girl in Uganda
told ISER. “The hunger at home was too much for us to sit and wait.”
Some children described work that was clearly hazardous. In Uganda and
Ghana, children described carrying heavy bags of ore at gold mining sites,
crushing the ore with hammers, breathing in dust and fumes from processing
machines, and handling toxic mercury to extract gold from the ore.
quarries, children reported injuries from flying stones, including sharp
particles that got into their eyes. Children showed researchers their cuts from
the machete-like tools they used to clear fields or the sharp edges of
Others described carrying heavy loads.
In each of the three countries, more than one-third of the children
interviewed worked at least ten hours a day, some seven days a week. Several
children in Nepal said they worked 14 hours a day or more in carpet factories.
Most were paid very little, if at all.
More than a quarter said that their
employer sometimes withheld wages or paid less than was promised. In Ghana, a
12-year-old said that he worked 11 hours a day carting fish to market, but was
paid only 2-3 cedis per day (US$0.34-0.52). “On many days, I go very hungry,”
he told Friends of the Nation.
School closures have contributed to an increase
in child labor
Most children interviewed had limited or no
access to distance learning. Some lost access to free school meals. Some have
dropped out of school permanently, while others continued to work even after
their schools reopened.
Another significant driver of child labor is a parent’s illness, disability,
As the global death toll from Covid-19 has topped 3.3 million
, hundreds of
thousands of children worldwide have lost parents and may be forced to become
their family’s primary wage earner.
Before the pandemic, countries had made remarkable progress in reducing
According to the International Labor Organization, the number of
children in child labor decreased by approximately 94 million between 2000 and
2016, a drop of 38
In many countries that successfully reduced child labor,
governments provided cash allowances to help families and reduce pressure on
children to work. However, 1.3
– most in Africa and Asia – are not covered by cash
The researchers focused on Ghana, Nepal, and Uganda because they have made
significant progress in reducing poverty and child labor, and as “pathfinder
countries, have committed to accelerate efforts to eradicate child labor by
2025 in line with the United Nations Sustainable
However, each has lagged behind regional peers in using
cash allowances to address the Covid-19 crisis.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the vast
of countries have provided emergency relief, including cash
assistance for families.
In many cases, however, the assistance has fallen far
short of the need. Most cash assistance programs have been short-term, or
consisted of a single payment.
“For many families with children, government assistance in response to the
pandemic has been far too little to protect their children from dangerous and
exploitative work,” Becker said. “
As millions of families struggle financially
due to the pandemic, cash allowances are more important than ever to protect