In my mentoring work with secretaries of Education, throughout 2020 and 2021, there were reports of a significant resumption of child labor, a practice that had been disappearing in Brazil, especially after the creation of Bolsa Família.
Covid-19, with the closing of schools and the economic crisis that accompanied it, resulted in the end of the requirement for school attendance to obtain social benefits and in the pressure for new sources of income. With this, and with the lack of adults with whom to leave their children, some families in vulnerable situations had to expose their children to an early entry into the world of work.
In June 2021, in the joint report “Child Labour: estimates 2020, trends and the road forward” (not yet translated), UNICEF and the ILO have already warned of the extent of the problem. According to the two international organizations, child labor increased for the first time in two decades and reached a total of 160 million children and adolescents worldwide —increase of 8.9 million from 2016 to 2020.
The growth has even affected children from 5 to 11 years old, not just those who are closer to adulthood. This confirms what some secretaries told me and what I could see, before the resumption of mandatory classroom classes, while walking early in the morning through some streets of São Paulo. Garbage collection for recycling often took place with small children accompanying their parents and working with them.
This strengthens the sad warning, also included in the report, that the number of children and adolescents from 5 to 17 years old involved in work that is harmful to their health or safety in 2020 reached the figure of 79 million on the planet, an increase of 6 .5 million compared to 2016 data.
In this sense, it will be essential for us, here in Brazil, which already had 1.7 million children and young people in child labor before the pandemic, to undertake an effort, involving governments and civil society, to change this situation and guarantee access to education for all. Unfortunately, some parents have kept their children away from both schools and learning at home, in municipalities that have not yet made going back to school mandatory.
An important initiative to actively search for students who have disengaged from their studies has been implemented by public school networks, with the support of Unicef. But if we really want to respect the rights of children, it is essential, if not now, in 2022, to return with mandatory classroom classes for everyone.
Otherwise, the defense of the importance of education will be just empty speech!