Strengthen social protection programmes to prevent child labour

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Bangladesh must keep the fight against child labour at the top of the agenda so that progress made in recent years is not lost, a new study by International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF recommends. The stakeholders should focus on compulsory education, skills development, and social protection programmes — not only to address child labourers and vulnerable children, but also to provide decent working opportunities for parents and older siblings.

The number of child labourers has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million in the last four years – with millions more at risk due to the impacts of Covid-19. The new study states that progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016. The new estimates are a wake-up call for all nations. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk.

Child labour compromises children’s education, restricting their rights and limiting their future opportunities, and leads to vicious inter-generational cycles of poverty and child labour. With school closures in place since March 2020 and poverty levels rising amidst the pandemic, UNICEF is concerned that growing numbers of children are being pushed into child labour. Families are struggling to cope and using every available means to survive. The policymakers need to prioritise the needs of children and address the wider social issues that create conditions for child labour.

In the Bangladesh section, the study report calls on the government to maximise the demographic dividend of the country and strengthen measures to produce a skilled, healthy, and productive labour force. We urge authorities to prioritise investments in programmes that can get children out of the workforce and back to schools, and in social protection programmes that can help families avoid asking children to engage in labour.

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