“We have very limited choices of what food to eat because of Covid.”

Key highlights from exploratory research on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of Working Children and their Families


Introduction:

In May 2020 Kindernothilfe led exploratory research with child workers and their caregivers about their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. In collaboration with six Time to Talk! partners from Bolivia (PASOCAP), Guatemala (CEIPA), Indonesia (PKPA), Kenya (WCY), the Philippines (Kaugmaon) and Zambia (JCM) and existing Children’s Advisory Committees, the research gathered the views of 25 boys, 21 girls, and 9 caregivers. The children aged 7 to 17 years were primarily working in informal sectors, such as small-scale vendors, waste collectors, street singers, tailors and assistants (masonry, bakery). Some worked in the agricultural sector. Key highlights from the research are shared here. Impact on livelihood and income: Lockdowns, health risks, and the closure of public markets and several economic sectors left many child workers and their caregivers either unemployed or with less income. Some caregivers and children persevered with their jobs or changed jobs in order to bring in an income, but due to reduced customers they still earned less. Some households reported having no income at all and relying exclusively on government subsidies and humanitarian assistance, which in many cases is not reaching the most vulnerable. For some children, one of the most difficult aspects of the crisis has been the family struggle and the frustration of feeling powerless and unable to provide economic support.

“After COVID -19 things have not been easier for me. My work has suffered loss, the little money we had has been spent on food. Now we rely on my uncle in Lusaka who is also struggling to meet his basic needs.” (11-year-old girl, plaits hair, Zambia, JCM)

“I used to see more job opportunities. Now there is no work as we are not selling the products. We rely on the subsidy we received from the government, and my only responsibility is to help with the housework.” (15-year-old girl, small-scale vendor, Bolivia, PASOCAP).

Impact on nutrition

As a result of COVID-19 most of the families reported either having less access to food, eating smaller portions, having a reduced number of meals per day, or having a less balanced diet. Before the pandemic, many of them were able to choose what to eat, had access to their favourite food, used to eat snacks between meals, and they more regularly ate meat or fish. Humanitarian assistance has been key for family survival, but the food assistance is not sufficient to feed all their family members, and some families received no food support. Some children are experiencing malnutrition by eating only once a day or going through the day drinking only water.

“I am worried of contracting corona and starving due to lack of food. We have very limited
choices of what food to eat because of Covid.” (15-year-old girl, household work, Kenya, WCY)

“Before we did not have much to eat, we were always short of food. In my family we no longer have
money and we lack food. There are days when we have nothing to eat; our situation worsens.” (30-year-old woman, small-scale vendor, mother of one child participant, Bolivia, PASOCAP)

Impact on Education

The lockdown drastically affected children’s right to education. On the peak of the lockdowns 90% of children worldwide were affected by school closures. It gave a whole new dimension to the definition of inclusive access to education in the face of socioeconomic challenges of already vulnerable families. In almost every context, some children simply had to drop-out because
schools (formal and/or informal schools) were closed. Some schools continued with online education. Some children were given printed homework every two weeks; some received assignments via WhatsApp; and a few received lessons through radio and TV programs. The lack of internet access, digital devices like computers or smartphones, and internet costs made it difficult for children to pursue their education during the pandemic and made the digital divide visible.

“During the home-schooling program, our teachers give our homework through an internet-based
application. Sadly, my parents and I do not have money to purchase internet data. Therefore, I have to
go to a bakery shop near my house in the morning to access free Wi-Fi from its parking lot. I always wear
a mask when I go out.” (16-year-old girl, Quran tuition, Indonesia, PKPA)

For many girls and boys, it became harder to understand the lessons online as teachers were less able to explain things clearly and they were less able to listen to and respond to children’s questions. Children do not feel they are learning as much as before and those with access to printed materials are tired of a lot of handwriting to copy the lessons and do their homework. Despite the challenges faced many of the working children continue to give importance to their education, they prioritise efforts to study, and remain hopeful that they can return to school when it is safe.

“We realized that we really need to take schooling seriously so that in the future we will have good and
stable job that will help us get out of poverty.” (15 to16-year-old- boys, agricultural work, waste collector
& tombstone cleaner, the Philippines, KAUGMAON)

Impact on mental health and wellbeing

As a result of the pandemic, caregivers and children face ongoing, changing and increased worries and uncertainties. Children and their parents fear that they or their family members risk getting sick, and they worry about job losses, reduced income which affects their ability to feed their family members, to cover school costs, and to pay rent and utility bills. The movement restrictions had a significant impact on the type of activities and coping mechanisms during the pandemic. Most of the children have more time to rest, but many felt bored and reported life disruption as one of the main challenges of the crisis. Many girls and boys missed playing outdoors and hanging out with friends. However, a significant positive impact of the lockdown has been that many working children have increased quality time with their family members, and communication with their parents and siblings improved during the confinement, increasing their opportunities to share their views and experiences, and to explore solutions together. However, a few children reported ongoing poor communication and increased risks of violence in families, especially if a family member drank alcohol.

“Now we communicate more because my parents spend more time at home”
(13-year-old girl, tailor, Guatemala, CEIPA)

Key emerging recommendations

  • Ensure fair humanitarian assitance for the most vulnerable including access to basic
    food, and essential hygiene items.
  • Set up cash transfer programmes to support vulnerable families in their income generation to
    mitigate the economic shock.
  • Provide free and quality (alternative) education to vulnerable children and support their reenrolment
    directly after lockdowns, taking into consideration the knowledge gaps of children unable to continue their education remotely during COVID-19.
  • Recognise and build upon the resilience and strengths of working children and their family
    members and actively engage them in policy and practice developments affecting them