More than 160 million children are in child labor worldwide, said a report released on Wednesday by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and UN children's agency UNICEF.
In the report, the ILO and UNICEF warned that without relief strategies, the number of children in child labor could rise by 8.9 million by the end of this year due to higher poverty and increased vulnerability.
Children need social protection, which reduces family poverty and vulnerability, diminishing critical drivers of child labor, they said in the report.
The two organizations called for closing the social protection coverage gap for the 1.5 billion children worldwide that are still unsupported by family or child cash benefits.
"There are many reasons to invest in universal social protection but eliminating child labor has to be one of the most compelling, given its pernicious impact on children's rights and wellbeing," said Guy Ryder, the ILO's director-general.
Global estimates hide uneven progress by region in the past 20 years, with Asia and the Pacific, Latin America, and the Caribbean showing steady reductions overall, while rates increased in sub-Saharan Africa from 2012 onwards.
"Although there is much variation across countries within each region, today, there are more children in child labor in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world combined," said the report.
It cited several studies since 2010 that present evidence of the role of social protection in eliminating child labor.
They show how social protection, by helping families cope with economic or health shocks, reduces child labor and facilitates schooling.
However, too little progress has been made in ensuring that all children enjoy social protection.
According to the report, governments can deploy a range of policies to promote social protection.
It warned, however that if policymakers do not act decisively, the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia-Ukraine war, rising poverty, and climate change would increase the prevalence of child labor.
For the more than 160 million children worldwide -- 1 in 10 children aged from five to 17 -- still engaged in child labor, progress has stalled since 2016, said the report. That equates to 63 million girls and 97 million boys.
To strengthen social protection for preventing and eliminating child labor, the report recommends closing the social protection coverage gap for children.
Prioritizing child benefits and extending social protection to the two billion workers in the informal economy will support their transition from the informal to the formal economy.