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AP documents international child labor as families put children to work during pandemic

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When Mexico announced in August that its 30 million students would start a new school year using a combination of internet and television-based distance learning, it became clear that swaths of the country would be left behind. And the problem was not just a lack of technology.

Without students physically present in school, many poor families chose to send their children to work to help survive the pandemic’s economic toll. As one teacher put it, “For them, to sit around watching television, if they have it, is like wasting time.”

Starting in Mexico,the AP decided to look at this sad phenomenon on a broad level,particularly after UNICEF warned that tens of millions of out-of-school children could be affected worldwide. The story drew on AP’s vast reach:

— Mexico City reporter María Verza and photographer Eduardo Verdugo reached out to contacts in the southern state of Chiapas where even before the pandemic school attendance was not a given. On a trip there with senior video producer Alexis Triboulard they found children hammering away inside rustic amber mines, clearing brush and weaving textiles.

— In Bolivia,reporter Carlos Valdez, photographer Juan Karita and freelance videojournalist Carlos Guerrero found a family of carpenters who had drafted their five school-age children into making furniture.

— Outside Paraguay’s capital, freelance reporter William Costa and freelance photographer Jorge Saenz captured children’s grueling work in the brick kilns that underpin the country’s construction industry.

— In Kenya, reporter Tom Odula found that some girls had been forced into prostitution while other children broke rocks in a quarry.

And in New Delhi,reporter Sheikh Saaliq heard concerns that millions of children could be forced into labor, fall victim to trafficking or be married off.

The arresting all-formats package – including a powerful montage of the sounds of child labor – was assembled by Phoenix-based digital storyteller Dario Lopez.

The project was widely used in English and Spanish,including by The Washington Post and Univision,and UNICEF referenced the AP reportage in its attempts to rally action against child labor.

For their important and compelling work,the team of Verza,Verdugo,Triboulard,Valdez,Karita,Guerrero,Costa,Saenz,Odula,Inganga, Saaliq and Lopez wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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