Sharqia, Egypt (ILO News)- Ahmed, 13 years old and the eldest of his siblings, is forced- due to the COVID-19 pandemic- to work as a casual worker on cotton cultivation. He wakes up at 6 in the morning to work on a cotton plantation to financially assist his family. He needs the money to provide for his needs complementing his father pay for his younger siblings’ needs.
It is a hard day and Ahmed is busy adding organic compost to prepare the soil for planting. Drenched in sweat, he said in a daring voice with a face of suffering “I am helping my family; it is tough as I went to the farmland, planted it with cotton seeds and watered the seeds.”
Schools were closed as part of the measures taken by Egypt for the safety of children to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Exams were replaced by research projects as declared by the Egyptian Ministry of Education and Technical Education. Amidst all this, Ahmed was forced to start seeking employment in informal jobs since physical classes were suspended. This, nonetheless, did not stop him from doing his own research project on the importance of the Nile River in ancient and modern Egypt.
Ahmed’s dreamBehind locked doors, families lost livelihoods and income, life became almost insufferable, and people were prompted to seek different paths to make a living after seeing their income plummet since the country went into COVID-19 lockdown.
Ahmed does not know that his work is actually prohibited by law. “This work is not a disgrace”, his father said to him. To Ahmed, working in agriculture will not stand in the way of his future dream of becoming a surgeon to be able to deliver affordable treatment to the poor.
COVID-19: government support for informal workersThe Egyptian government took many measures, and provided benefits and assistance to informal casual workers and those on low incomes who have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures were intended to protect workers from the risk of seeking any alternative source of income.
Ahmed’s father, Amr Abdel Bar, stated that he has received 1500 EGP over a period of three months granted by the Ministry of Manpower, to help those affected by the precautionary measures taken by the state to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. However, it is not enough to pay the bills and feed his family.
Ahmed’s innocence is overshadowed by the bloom of his youth. It is evident in the way he holds a “scythe- sharp tool” to cut the weeds, or leans over to plant the cotton seeds; this is the only way for him to help his family to survive the current hardships caused by COVID19 crisis, where he faces acute risks of hazardous and exploitative work.
Young Ahmed carries heavy burdens; in his arms, he carries loads that significantly surpasses him in weight and height. Ahmed carries it to feed the cattle, all while wearing a medical face mask and gloves. This is to protect himself and his family from the COVID-19, as his village witnessed a number of infections. Egypt has made it mandatory to wear masks in public places, imposing a fine for those who do not comply.
Child labour in EgyptThe Government of Egypt expressed strong political will in combating child labour, building on some advancement made in recent years promoting welfare of children and their protection from child labour. In 2019, the Government of Egypt launched the National Action Plan for Combating the Worst Forms of Child Labour in Egypt and Supporting Family (2018-2025).
The NAP provides timelines and roles of the Governmental agencies responsible for assisting children getting out of child labour. It is aligned with Egypt Vision 2030, Egyptian Constitution, Sustainable Development Goals Target 8.7 and ILO Conventions No. 138 on Minimum Age and No. 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour.
Moving from planning to implementationIn light of the increased number of children in child labour in agriculture as a result of Covid-19 pandemic, eliminating child labour is one of ILO’s core mandates and requires coordinated action more than before centered on protecting the health, jobs and incomes of adult workers and their families while at the same time ensuring continued education for all children.
The ILO supports the Egyptian Government in implementing the NAP through the Dutch funded regional Project Accelerating Action for the Elimination of Child Labour in Supply Chains in Africa (ACCEL Africa). In Egypt, the project addresses child labour in cotton supply chains, which historically employs thousands of children each year.
Ahemd’s father appreciated the efforts taken by the ILO in collaboration with the Egyptian Government, to raise family and community awareness and knowledge about the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the greater risks of children to be pushed into child labour.
In addition, ILO’s project supports facilitating access to available financial services and enhancing social protection programmes and conditional cash transfer programmes. Furthermore, it works also to enhance accessibility to community schools, child labour centers, facilitate rehabilitation services. The project carefully documents the impact of COVID-19 on children and child labour in cotton agriculture through assessments and studies on how the project activities could best geared towards supporting the elimination of child labour and supporting families of child labourer more sustainably.