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In this May 30, 2020 photo, Indian migrant worker's children peer out from the window of their train in Prayagraj, India, as they return to villages. VOA
By Lisa Schlein

A joint report by the International Labor Organization and U.N. Children’s Fund warns that millions of children are likely to be pushed into forced labor because of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. The two agencies launched a report, titled, “COVID-19 and Child Labor: A Time of Crisis” to mark World Day Against Child Labor, June 12.

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Authors of the report warn the global pandemic is likely to reverse decades of steady progress made in reducing the number of child laborers. Over the past 20 years, the International Labor Organization said, child labor has decreased by 94 million.

The latest figures put the number of child laborers globally at 152 million, nearly half of them in what is called hazardous child labor. Those jobs are particularly dangerous and hazardous to the physical and mental well-being of children. They include work in the agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, and domestic sectors.

The report warns that millions of children are likely to be forced into the worst forms of labor as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the economy and families have no means of support. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new coronavirus.


The report warns that millions of children are likely to be pushed into forced labor. Pixabay

Closed schools a factor in forced labor

The senior researcher and ILO lead author of the report, Lorenzo Guarcello, told VOA evidence is growing that child labor is rising as schools close during the pandemic. He said many children who do not go to school are likely to be forced into exploitative and hazardous jobs.

“Families are sending children to sell in the streets some food, flowers,” he said. “So, already, they are starting to work. They are much more exposed to work in hazardous conditions because of the increase, the likely increase and involvement in the informal sector.”

Guarcello said Africa has the largest number of child laborers. Of its 72 million child laborers, he said, 31.5 million are in hazardous work. He said most are employed in the agriculture sector.

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“We know that working in agriculture exposes children to hazardous conditions — long working hours, being exposed to the heat for a full day, using dangerous machinery and so on,” he said.

Guarcello said the ILO and UNICEF are developing a simulation model to look at the global impact of COVID-19. He said new global estimates will be released next year.

Among its recommendations, the joint report is calling for comprehensive social protection and easier access to credit for poor households to counter the threat of child labor. (VOA)


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Milky Way galaxy as seen from Chitkul Valley

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has for the first time spotted signs of a planet transiting a star outside of the Milky Way galaxy, opening up a new avenue to search for exoplanets at greater distances than ever before.

The possible exoplanet -- or planets outside of our Solar System -- candidate is located in the spiral galaxy Messier 51 (M51), also called the Whirlpool Galaxy because of its distinctive profile, NASA said in a statement.

Astronomers have, so far, found all other known exoplanets and exoplanet candidates in the Milky Way galaxy, almost all of them less than about 3,000 light-years from Earth.

An exoplanet in M51 would be about 28 million light-years away, meaning it would be thousands of times farther away than those in the Milky Way, NASA said.

"We are trying to open up a whole new arena for finding other worlds by searching for planet candidates at X-ray wavelengths, a strategy that makes it possible to discover them in other galaxies," said Rosanne Di Stefano of the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard and Smithsonian (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the study.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The exoplanet candidate was spotted in a binary system called M51-ULS-1, located in M51. This binary system contains a black hole or neutron star orbiting a companion star with a mass about 20 times that of the Sun. The X-ray transit they found using Chandra data lasted about three hours, during which the X-ray emission decreased to zero.

Based on this and other information, the team estimates the exoplanet candidate in M51-ULS-1 would be roughly the size of Saturn and orbit the neutron star or black hole at about twice the distance of Saturn from the Sun.

The team looked for X-ray transits in three galaxies beyond the Milky Way galaxy, using both Chandra and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton. Their search covered 55 systems in M51, 64 systems in Messier 101 (the "Pinwheel" galaxy), and 119 systems in Messier 104 (the "Sombrero" galaxy).

However, more data would be needed to verify the interpretation as an extragalactic exoplanet. One challenge is that the planet candidate's large orbit means it would not cross in front of its binary partner again for about 70 years, thwarting any attempts for a confirming observation for decades, NASA said.

Named in honor of the late Indian-American Nobel laureate, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the Chandra X-ray Observatory is the world's most powerful X-ray telescope. It has eight times greater resolution and is able to detect sources more than 20-times fainter than any previous X-ray telescope.

Known to the world as Chandra (which means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit), Chandrasekhar was widely regarded as one of the foremost astrophysicists of the twentieth century. (IANS/JB)


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