The Arab Trade Union Confederation and Education international have issued a statement concerning the Arab region on the occasion of World Day Against Child Labour, 12 June.
Today, June 12, 2021, we commemorate the International Day against Child Labour in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis represents an unprecedented challenge to public health, education systems and the world of work. Unfortunately, children are the first to suffer.
The economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic is devastating which has exacerbated inequity, unemployment and poverty indicators in most Arab countries.
COVID-19 has led to widespread education disruption with school and other education institutions’ closures that impacted more than 90% of learners globally. The crisis has exposed the vulnerabilities of education systems and amplified social, gender, learning and digital inequalities, adding to the existing social, political humanitarian and economic challenges in the Arab region.
Increased dropout rates
The crisis has pushed millions of vulnerable children into child labour. According to ILO statistics already, there an estimated 152 million children in child labour. These children are now at even greater risk of facing circumstances that are even more difficult.
Thousands of families were forced to employ their children in the informal economy due to the economic hardships that families have been exposed to during the lockdowns and the paradigm shift of working conditions. Governments in the Arab region have failed to monitor the consequences on vulnerable groups and protect children.
Distance learning when made available was not accessible to many families who had no internet connections or no online equipment.
The pandemic will also roll back progress that has been made to achieve gender equality in education. It has been reported that there will be a sharp increase in the number of girls who could not be able to return to school after the pandemic, mostly due to teenage marriages and early pregnancies.
The phenomenon of clandestine immigration of children and minors, especially in the countries of the Maghreb, was a serious alarm that threatened the erosion of the social fabric of the region and the draining of its human resources. While access to education provides increased opportunities for integration, distance learning put additional obstacles to the right to education.
More than half of the 22 Arab countries are affected by conflicts or inflows of refugees and internally displaced persons. As it the case across the globe, conflict has hit women and children disproportionately hard in the region. In consequence, child labour has emerged as the most critical child protection issue in the region requiring urgent attention and action.
Therefore, we as Global union federations; ATUC and EI; call on its member organisations in the Arab region to take action and on government to:
- Eradicate child labour and get child labourers out of work into schools through social dialogue with workers organisations;
- Align national legislation with international legal standards and ensure the effective enforcement of the age of compulsory education and child labour national laws and regulations;
- Intensify at work sites inspections and ensure respect for legislation related to the protection of children;
- Invest in public education facilities, and train, support and empower teachers;
- Protect children from economic and social vulnerability by improving the socio-economic circumstances of families where adults suffer from poverty and unemployment;
- Ensure access to basic services including education and online programmes;
- Protect children from the impact of armed conflict and call on armed conflict parties to respect the provisions of international humanitarian law that criminalise targeting schools or use for military operations;
- Providing the necessary social and psychological support for unaccompanied migrant children.