Pope Francis called for an end to child labor and the protection of minors during his weekly general audience at the Vatican on June 10.
The pontiff urged institutions to “fill the economic and social gaps” to protect minors who are deprived of their childhood because of exploitation.
“I appeal to the institutions to make every effort to protect minors, filling the economic and social gaps that underlie the distorted dynamic in which they are unfortunately involved,” he said.
Pope Francis said that as the world marks June 12 as World Day Against Child Labor, “boys and girls who were forced to work were deprived of their childhoods.”
“In many cases these are forms of slavery and imprisonment, resulting in physical and psychological suffering,” said the pontiff.
He noted that the situation of children has been made worse because of “the current health emergency situation.”
The U.N. agency International Labor Organization (ILO) launched the World Day Against Child Labor in 2002 to highlight the situation of children engaged in work that deprives them of a normal childhood.
The year, the observance will focus on the impact of crisis on child labor, especially with the coronavirus pandemic that has resulted in economic and labor market shock.
The ILO estimated that there are about 152 million children used for labor, 72 million of whom are in hazardous work.
According to the United Nations, Africa ranks highest among regions both in the percentage of children in child labor — one-fifth — and the absolute number of children used for labor in the African continent numbers about 72 million.
Asia and the Pacific ranks second highest in both these measures at seven percent of all children and 62 million in absolute terms are in child labor in the region.
Africa and the Asia and the Pacific regions together account for almost nine out of every ten children in child labor worldwide.
While the percentage of children in child labor is highest in low-income countries, their numbers are actually greater in middle-income countries, according to the U.N.
About nine percent of children in lower-middle-income countries, and seven percent of all children in upper-middle-income countries are in child labor.