Child labour

There is no form of exploitation more horrible than child labour.

Child labour refers to work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, it is harmful to their physical and mental development, it interferes with their schooling

While child labour takes many different forms, the priority is to eliminate without delay the worst forms of child labour as defined by Article 3 of ILO Convention No. 182(1999):

(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.

Child labour is a complex problem with many causes. While family poverty is often cited as the single most important factor pushing children into the workforce, numerous others come into play as well. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the AIDS pandemic has been particularly hard on children. Millions have been orphaned and forced to work to survive, while others have had to give up education to work in order to support sick parents.

Some key facts:

  • one child in every seven can be classified as a child labourer.
  • In 2008, there were approximately 215 million child labourers, aged 5-17, in the world.
  • Nearly 114 million child labourers are in Asia and the Pacific.
  • Just over 14 million are in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Just over 65 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Over 22 million are in other regions, which includes the Middle East and North Africa, the developed countries and the former transition economies of Eastern Europe and Asia.
  • The proportion of children engaged in child labour in Sub-Saharan Africa is currently the highest of any region at around 25.3%. This means that in this region, approximately one child in every 4 can be classified as a child labourer.
  • Most child labourers are working in agriculture (60.0%). 25.6% work in services, 7.0% in industry and 7.5% work in undefined areas.
  • Only one in five child labourers are in paid employment. The overwhelming majority are unpaid family workers.

Experience has shown that the effective elimination of child labour requires policies that address persistent poverty and the vulnerability of households to economic shocks.  Important policy responses concern education, social protection and efforts to promote decent work for adults.

Source: International Labour Organization website, United Nations website
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