The Covid-19 pandemic poses the risk of pushing millions of children around the world into child labour, while those already employed may be forced to work longer hours and under worsening conditions.
This could lead to the first-ever rise in child labour in 20 years.
Since 2000, child labour fell by 94 million but this gain could soon be reversed.
The joint brief of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Unicef – "Covid-19 and child labour: A time of crisis, a time to act" – released yesterday offered the insights.
More children may be forced into the worst forms of labour, which causes significant harm to their health and safety.
"As the pandemic wreaks havoc on family incomes, without support, many could resort to child labour," the ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said.
"Social protection is vital in times of crisis, as it provides assistance to those who are most vulnerable."
"Integrating child labour concerns across broader policies for education, social protection, justice, labour markets, and international human and labour rights make a critical difference."
The brief highlights a direct correlation between a rise in poverty and an increasing number of children falling through the safety net.
Covid-19 could result in a rise in poverty and therefore to an increase in child labour, as households use every available means to survive, it says.
Also, it cited studies to state that a 1 percentage point rise in poverty leads to at least a 0.7 percent increase in child labour in certain countries.
"In times of crisis, child labour becomes a coping mechanism for many families," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
"As poverty rises, schools close and the availability of social services decreases, more children are pushed into the workforce.As we re-imagine the world post-Covid, we need to make sure that children and their families have the tools they need to weather similar storms in the future."
"Quality education, social protection services and better economic opportunities can be game-changers."
Vulnerable population groups – such as those working in the informal economy and migrant workers – will suffer most from the economic downturn, increased informality and unemployment, the general fall in living standards, health shocks and insufficient social protection systems, among other pressures.
Evidence is gradually increasing that child labour is rising as schools close during the pandemic.
Temporary school closures are now affecting more than 1 billion learners in over 130 countries.
Even when classes restart, some parents may no longer be able to afford to send their children to school.
So more children could be forced into exploitative and hazardous jobs.
Gender inequalities may grow more acute, with girls particularly vulnerable to exploitation in agriculture and domestic work, the brief says.
It proposes several measures to counter the threat of increased child labour, including more comprehensive social protection, easier access to credit for poor households, the promotion of decent work for adults, measures to get children back into school, including the elimination of school fees, and more resources for labour inspections and law enforcement.
The ILO and Unicef also says they are developing a simulation model to look at the impact of Covid-19 on child labour globally.