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Child labour is increasing

According to a new report by the International  Labour Organization ( ILO) and UNICEF,  the number of children in child labour in the world has gone up to at least 160 million - nearly 1 in 10 children - with millions more at risk. 72 million among them are in hazardous work.

What is child labour?

International standards define child labour as work that is hazardous to a child’s health and development, demands too many hours and/or is performed by children who are too young. Usually, child labour interferes with a child’s right to education and to play. This issue is at the core of the ILO mission. 

According to the ILO, approximately 70% of child labourers toil in agriculture. Others work long hours in factories and domestic service or face even more exploitative forms of labour — like as child soldiers or being exploited in the commercial sex trade.

The worst forms of child labour involve children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age.

Whilst child labour takes many different forms, an ILO priority is to eliminate without delay the worst forms of child labour as defined by Article 3 of ILO Convention No. 182:

(a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;

(b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;

(c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;

(d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children (hazardous child labour or hazardous work).

Why is there child labour?

Poverty is the primary reason children are forced to work, perpetuating a crushing cycle that denies them education, a crucial tool to break free from poverty. Poverty forces parents to see their minor children work and not enjoy their childhood. Poor families send their children for work to get a square meal or to clear family debts; social acceptance of child labour in many countries is a culprit. And rich families hire children for a meager amount. So the general public and families of the young workers do not understand how harmful child labour is and the impact of the physical and psychological violence which stays forever.

How many and where?

In the least developed countries, more than one in four children (ages 5-17) are engaged in labour seen as detrimental to their health and development. Africa ranks highest among regions of the number of children in child labor with the figures standing at 72 million. Asia and the pacific ranks second highest – 7% of all children and 62 million in total are in child labour in the region. Together, Asia, Africa and the Pacific regions contribute nine out of ten children for child labour worldwide.

The remaining number is provided by America (11 million), Europe and central Asia (6 million) and the Arab states (1 million). In terms of percentage, 5 % children account for child labour in America, 4 % in Europe and Central Asia and 3 % in the Arab states.

ILO: Child labour must be ended by 2025

The international community has set SDG target 8.7 which calls on countries to end child labour in all its forms by 2025. Given the intrinsic link between child labour and education, reducing and eventually ending child labour contributes to progress on SDG 4 on quality education.

There are two fundamental ILO Conventions that directly address child labour: ILO Convention 138 on the minimum age for work and 182 on eliminating the worst forms of child labour. ILO Convention 182 was universally ratified by all ILO member states last year. This Convention calls on all countries to enhance international cooperation and/or assistance for social and economic development, poverty eradication and universal education (article 8).

Social protection can make a difference

The root causes of child labour can only be counteracted by tackling poverty, inequalities, increasing access to quality education and social protection, promoting due diligence for sustainable supply chains, and supporting governments, local actors and businesses, especially in the most affected countries. The complexity of the problem requires holistic approaches to address the root causes and systemic solutions need coordination with a variety of actors and strategic sectors.

Social protection by way of universal child benefits or cash transfers offer a powerful solution. Transfers provided on a regular basis to all families with children, are a simple and proven means of cushioning children and their families from poverty and improving access to education and other services. The payments can be used to incentivise school attendance and help offset schooling costs. Solutions may be required for families of informal workers, who may be excluded from social protection payments, making them doubly vulnerable.

No child should be working

No child should be working. Every child has the right to a good education, the right to play and the right to enjoy its childhood. Child labour means that poverty continues to exist. Eradicating child labour means development and better opportunities for everyone.


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