“I Must Work to Eat:” Covid-19, Poverty, and Child Labor in Ghana, Nepal, and Uganda

Human Rights Watch

This report examines the rise in child labor and poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic in three countries: Ghana, Nepal, and Uganda, the impact on children’s rights, and government responses. Each of the three countries has made significant progress reducing poverty and child labor in recent decades. Each has also made an explicit commitment as a “pathfinder” country to accelerate efforts to eradicate child labor in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. Adopted by United Nations member states in 2015, these goals call for taking immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, modern slavery and human trafficking, and ending child labor by 2025.

Despite their commitments to accelerate progress in ending child labor, however, Ghana, Nepal, and Uganda have lagged behind many of their regional peers in using cash allowances to address the Covid-19 crisis, spending less than their peers and covering a smaller proportion of households with children.

For this report, researchers interviewed 81 children (48 boys and 33 girls) between the ages of 8 and 17 in Ghana, Nepal, and Uganda. The children were mainly from low-income households. The vast majority said that their family income had been negatively impacted by the pandemic and lockdowns imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Their parents lost jobs when businesses shut down, lost access to markets due to transportation restrictions, or lost customers due to economic slowdowns. For example, 13-year-old Maimun said his parents were farmers, and that during Nepal’s lockdown, “We couldn’t sell our vegetables. We had to throw away the tomatoes and cauliflower because there was nowhere to sell them.”