The number of children in child labour has risen to 16 crore worldwide -- first increase in two decades -- with millions more at risk due to COVID-19, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UNICEF.
The report -- ''Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward'' -- released ahead of the World Day Against Child Labour on June 12, says the progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the downward trend that saw it fall by 94 million (9.4 crore) between 2000 and 2016.
The report points to a significant rise in the number of children aged 5 to 11 years in child labour, who now account for over half of the total global figure.
The number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work --defined as work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals -- has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016, the report said.
"The number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million (16 crore) worldwide -- an increase of 8.4 million (84 lakh) children in the last four years -- with millions more at risk due to the impacts of COVID-19," the report said.
UNICEF India Representative Dr Yasmin Ali Haque said the coronavirus pandemic has clearly emerged as a child rights crisis, aggravating the risk of child labour as many more families are likely to have fallen into extreme poverty.
"Children in poor and disadvantaged households in India are now at a greater risk of negative coping mechanisms such as dropping out of school and being forced into labour, marriage, and even falling victim to trafficking," she said.
Children have lost parents and caregivers to the virus, leaving them destitute, without parental care, she said. "These children are extremely vulnerable to neglect, abuse and exploitation."
"We must act fast to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from becoming a lasting crisis for children in India, especially those who are most vulnerable," she said.