The unprecedented economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, together with global school closures and inadequate government assistance, is pushing children into exploitative and dangerous child labor.
Human Rights Watch and Friends of the Nation, in a report released ahead of the World Day against Child Labor on June 12, 2021, are asking the Ghanaian government and donors to prioritize cash allowances to families to protect children’s rights and enable families to maintain an adequate standard of living without resorting to child labor.
The 69-page report, “‘I Must Work to Eat’: Covid-19, Poverty, and Child labor in Ghana, Nepal, and Uganda,” was co-published with Friends of the Nation in Ghana and Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) in Uganda.
It examines the rise in child labor and poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the pandemic’s impact on children’s rights. Children described working long, grueling hours for little pay after their parents lost jobs or income due to the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns. Many described hazardous working conditions.
“The pandemic has hit Ghanaian families hard, forcing many children into exploitative work,” said Solomon Kusi Ampofo, program coordinator for Friends of the Nation. “The government should increase cash assistance to families to prevent further increases in poverty and child labor.”
Researchers interviewed 81 working children, some as young as 8, in Ghana, Nepal, and Uganda. In Ghana, Friends of the Nation interviewed 24 children ages 11 to 17 who worked at gold mines, in carpentry, fishing, by transporting goods, and selling items on the street.
Nearly all of the Ghanaian children interviewed said that the pandemic has negatively affected their family income. Many entered the workforce for the first time to support their families. Some said they decided to work because their families didn’t have enough food.
In 2008, Ghana initiated a cash transfer program called LEAP (Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty), but in 2020, the program reached only 5 percent of the country’s population. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ghana spent less than half of the regional average for Sub-Saharan Africa on social safety net programs, including cash transfers.