COVID-19: Impact on child labour

ILO, UNICEF urge Malaysia to tackle child labour issue

In commemoration of the World Day against Child Labour, ILO, UNICEF and the Malaysian stakeholders discussed the impacts of COVID-19 on child labour and the means to address them.

Press release | Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | 25 June 2020
The International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF highlight the need to act urgently to avoid a rise in the incidence of child labour as a result of increased poverty and children dropping out of school due to COVID-19, in today’s World Day against Child Labour webinar with the theme “COVID-19: Protect children from child labour, now more than ever!”

According to Bharati Pflug, ILO Senior Specialist on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, “In 2016, there were 152 million children in child labour. Today, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we could witness an increase in child labour for the first time in 20 years. It might be too early to come up with concrete figures, but millions of children are at risk of being pushed into work prematurely or under hazardous conditions.”

Globally, countries recognize that child labour is a hindrance to the attainment of a rights-based and sustainable development. The UN has declared 2021 the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. This provides an opportunity for all governments, international and regional organizations, workers’ organizations, employer and business membership organizations, civil society organizations, academic institutions and other relevant stakeholders and networks to join efforts to tackle child labour on the road to 2025, the date set by SDG Target 8.7 to end child labour in all its forms. ILO and UNICEF released a global brief entitled “COVID-19 and child labour: A time of crisis, a time to act” on 12 June and looked at some of the main channels through which the pandemic is likely to affect progress towards the eradication of child labour.

Sarah Norton-Staal, UNICEF’s Chief of Child Protection reminded participants of the vulnerabilities of children in Malaysia to child labour. “Decline in household incomes for families have a negative impact on children. Decreasing economic opportunities often force children into exploitative labour. Action needs to be taken to ensure children continue to learn, and that families are supported to avoid the exploitation and abuse of children through harmful labour.”

Malaysia has ratified ILO Minimum Age Convention (C138) and Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (C182). In November 2019, Malaysia also expressed interest to become an Alliance 8.7 Pathfinder Country. During the webinar, both ILO and UNICEF urge Malaysia to pursue this. Alliance 8.7 is a global partnership focusing on accelerating actions toward achieving SDG Target 8.7, scaling up solutions that work, driving innovation, and leveraging and maximizing the impact of resources to eradicate forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour.

Although there is no national child labour survey in Malaysia, various studies and empirical evidence indicate that child labour is happening in certain pockets of both rural and urban areas even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Datuk Muhd Khair Razman Bin Muhamed Annuar, Ministry of Human Resources Deputy Secretary General for Policy and International Division shared that that government is currently developing the first National Action Plan on Child Labour in Malaysia. According to him, the National Action Plan will comprise of programmes to intensify awareness amongst the public regarding child labour, protect young workers and enhance national capacity to eradicate child labour including strengthening enforcement, establishing referral mechanism and improving social protection.

The panel discussion, moderated by SUHAKAM Children’s Commissioner Prof. Dato’ Noor Aziah Hj. Mohd. Awal, with participation of ILO, MOHR Department of Labour Peninsular Malaysia, Malaysian Trades Union Congress, Malaysian Employers Federation and Wilmar International discussed the international and national legal framework and example of actions undertaken by companies to address child labour issues.

Participants from the government, workers, employers, civil society organizations, students and other organizations joined the event. Technical support on addressing child labour in the country is provided through the ILO project “From Protocol to Practice: A Bridge to Global Action on Forced Labour”, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.