Girls, the first victims of increasing child labor

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On International Girls’ Day, every October 11, Plan International sounds the alarm: 160 million children work worldwide, an increase of 8.4 million workers under the age of 18 since 2016. With the coronavirus pandemic, the numbers are expected to worsen, with girls on the front line, out of school more quickly than boys and invisible in the counts.

In the mines as in the fields, in the factories or in the shops, on the water as on land, 63 million girls work. And this figure, already substantial, is underestimated. ” These data from the International Labor Organization and thealliance 8.7 cannot take into account the worst forms of exploitation of girls, including domestic slavery, recruitment into armed groups, commercial sexual exploitation or domestic work, for lack of figures », Specifies Juliette Bénet, one of the two spokespersons of theONG Plan International which strives to advance respect for children’s rights and equality between girls and boys. A methodological problem that can distort the public’s perception, regrets Julien Beauhaire, the second spokesperson for the NGO: “ This figure, compared to the 97 million working boys, could lead one to believe that girls are less affected than boys but this is false: these other forms of exploitation make the real plight of girls invisible.. »

Girls are more exposed

According to preliminary estimates, the health crisis could put 9 million additional children to work, not counting informal farms. An increase due to the economic crisis which impoverishes the populations, but also to successive confinements. However, in emergency situations, conflicts, health or ecological disasters, girls are the first to be affected: they have 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys. ” When poverty increases by 1%, child labor increases by 0.7%. And there is a clear link between poverty and the exploitation of girls. A daughter at home is a mouth to feed, she represents an economic burden for parents », Asserts Julien Beauhaire.

Dropping out of school due to confinement often causes girls to lose their way to school and exposes them to dangers, adds Juliette Bénet: ” When a girl no longer goes to school, the family prefers to entrust her to a husband, to avoid having an extra mouth to feed. They are also exposed to sexual violence, especially within the family. Some are forced, when they are locked in their homes, to work 10 hours a day to support their families. Another alarming trend is emerging, with an increase during confinement: the sexual exploitation of girls on the web. In the Philippines, the number of reported cases rose from 50,000 to over 120,000 between February and March 2020.

Encourage the return to school

The areas most affected by child labor are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. On the African continent, one in five children is affected. Jane Mrema is responsible for Plan International’s Child Protection program in Tanzania. Every day, she sees the gender inequalities in accessing school: “ In the field, there are girls who are supposed to be in school but who are not there, who help run the family business, fish, and farm. Poverty can play a role, of course, but also the expectations of the family, who want the girl to participate in the running of the house. The school is a place of sanctuary, where girls are protected from most forms of exploitation. Schooling induces a better understanding of gender inequalities, and therefore the possibility of breaking a vicious circle. ” An out of school girl will reproduce the circle that has locked girls for generations, that of forced marriage. Teenage pregnancies and childbirth are the number one killer of adolescent girls », Recalls Julien Beauhaire.

For economic reasons, the possibility of giving a daughter to a husband can be attractive for families, confirms Jane Mrema: “ Early marriages allow parents to obtain a dowry quickly, which is why parents are also made aware of the benefits their daughters can derive from going to school, and that we seek other sources with them. income, such as loans. NGOs are also lobbying states to try to change education policies. ” States are called on to guarantee girls a 12-year cycle of safe, free and quality education, and to devote 20% of their national income to investments in education », Claims Julien Beauhaire.

Fighting internalized sexism

More than pauperization or the health context, it is against the sexist mentality of societies that we must fight. Sexism is deeply rooted in societies, such as in Tanzania. ” Due to their gender, girls are directly considered inferior to boys. Communities have specific expectations for their daughters: they must keep the house, but also participate in the financial contribution to support the household. », Regrets Jane Mrema.

Changing the view of society on the position of girls and more generally on child labor is the most difficult mission for the activist based in Tanzania, especially when the targets of these inequalities are sometimes themselves reluctant. Jane Mrema describes how most girls internalized these inequalities as legitimate norms: “ The majority of girls consider this to be normal, because of their culture, their beliefs, their socialization… they want to conform to the expectations of society, in the roles assigned to them. Hence the awareness-raising work carried out with communities, parents and daughters by local activists like Jane. ” Some, who have been sensitized, who have been in our projects, understand their rights in as children and feel confident enough to ask for help, to seek support from associations », Affirme Jane Mrema.

States are gradually becoming aware of the issue and the laws are starting to evolve. However, once the legislative apparatus is in motion, there is still a long way to go. Juliette Bénet concludes: “ The real challenge is the application of these laws on the ground, with the aim of applying real sanctions against employers who continue to call on children, and that girls and boys alike be supported when necessary. »

Read also : Afghanistan: “Girls will do anything to continue learning”

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