Child Labour

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There are 158 million children aged 5-14 engaged in child labour across the world. This translates to one in six children in the world. Of this, a huge number of children are engaged in hazardous work -- which includes working in mines, working with chemicals and pesticides in agriculture or working with dangerous machinery. They are everywhere but invisible, toiling as domestic servants in homes, labouring behind the walls of workshops, hidden from view in plantations.

Some facts about Child labour

Child labour, refers to any child under the age of 14 who is working and is deprived of an education thus stilting his or her physical, emotional, intellectual and social growth.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has estimated that 218 million children between the ages of five and seventeen work in developing countries. Of these, 122.3 million children work in the Asia-Pacific region, 49.3 million work in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 5.7 million work in Latin America and the Caribbean. Most working children in rural areas are found in agriculture; many children work as domestics; urban children work in trade and services, with fewer in manufacturing and construction.

Child labor ranges from four-year-olds tied to rug looms to keep them from running away, to seventeen-year-olds helping out on the family farm. In some cases, a child's work can be helpful to him or her and to the family; working and earning can be a positive experience in a child's growing up. This depends largely on the age of the child, the conditions in which the child works, and whether work prevents the child from going to school.

Of nearly 218 million children engaged in child labor around the world, the vast majority—69 percent, or some 150 million—are working in agriculture. Child agricultural workers frequently work for long hours in scorching heat, haul heavy loads of produce, are exposed to toxic pesticides, and suffer high rates of injury from sharp knives and other dangerous tools. Their work is grueling and harsh, violating their rights to health, education, and protection from work that is hazardous or exploitative.

Child labour -- The issues involved

The complex issue of child labour is a developmental issue and it is a problem that concerns a global population. Broadly speaking, children are found to be working in the following sectors- Agricultural, Livestock, Forestry, Fishing, Plantation, Mining and Quarrying, Manufacturing, Processing, Servicing and Repairs, Construction, Trade and Commerce, Transport, Storage and Communication, and other services.

It is undeniable that the impact of early work on children is extremely severe. It effects their health and safety. They remain illiterate and unproductive workers. It depletes the human resources of a country and state and it keeps the cycle of poverty moving.

Children living in the poorest households and in rural areas are most likely to be engaged in child labour. Those burdened with household chores are overwhelmingly girls. Millions of girls who work as domestic servants are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Labour often interferes with children’s education. Ensuring that all children go to school and that their education is of good quality are keys to preventing child labour.

Though nobody condones the use of child labour, there is a school of thought that maintains that child labour is a problem that cannot be eradicated overnight or even anytime soon. And so it is imperative that till that happens, all kinds and medical assistance should be provided to the children due to the work they are involved in. They say that laws should be drafted making employers obligated to providing adequate relief.

There are also enough people who say that in many cases eradicating child labour is a utopian ideal. They say that when children learn a family trade or craft, it should not be seen as labour but as education and instead of working towards elimination, people and government should help focus on getting them education and better facilities.

Bonded Labour

The combination of poverty and the lack of a social security network form the basis of an even harsher type of child labour -- bonded labour.

Bonded labour "refers to the phenomenon of children working in conditions of servitude in order to pay off a debt”. It is rightly considered as one of the most exploitative and brutal form of child labour. In most cases it involves verbal and physical threats against the children and their family, non payment of wages for work completed, physical abuse and sexual exploitation including beatings and torture, forced dispossession, confiscation of all personal belongings, and many other gross abuses including denial of food and other basic human necessities. Another form of bonded labour happens when a child is used as collateral for a loan taken by the parents or any family member, which is for an undefined period.

Reasons for child labour

There is no single reason for the existence of child labour but poverty is one of the main pegs. Simply put, child labour is a source of income for poor families. Families need money to survive, and children are a source of additional income. A study conducted by the ILO Bureau of Statistics found that "Children’s work was considered essential to maintaining the economic level of households, either in the form of work for wages, of help in household enterprises or of household chores in order to free adult household members for economic activity elsewhere". Whichever angle one sees this situation, poverty is the main reason followed by the lack of educational facilities.

Due to the absence of good schools, education resources and weak governmental strictures, most families find it more convenient for the children to work rather than study. Thus Inadequate schools, a lack of schools, or even the expense of schooling, leaves many children with little else to do but work. There are strong family expectations as well at play, especially when the family size is large and income is limited. The attitudes of parents also contribute to child labour; some parents feel that children should work in order to develop skills useful in the job market, instead of wasting time with formal education.

An uncaring public opinion which does not consider child labour as a serious issue to fight about, is also responsible in a large way for its existence. Another reason is the limited choices available to women in many traditional societies, which affects the child labour statistics both directly and indirectly. And last but not least is the callous and uncaring attitude of employers who look at profit and economics before the welfare of children.

According to a UNICEF report international economic trends also have increased child labor in poor countries. "During the 1980s, in many developing countries, government indebtedness, unwise internal economic policies and recession resulted in economic crisis. Structural adjustment programmes in many countries accentuated cuts in social spending that have hit the poor disproportionately. "

Efforts to fight Child Labour

Worldwide there is a huge movement to help fight the existence of child labour and eliminate it. Some of the methods are –

  • Strong and vocal advocacy by various human rights groups around the world.
  • Widespread and vociferous media exposure against child labour and the results of child labour.
  • Stronger legislations and implementation efforts by governments and International agencies.
  • Stronger efforts to ban products and companies that use or employ children as labour.
  • To device stronger and more concrete efforts to help poor families raise their incomes for if child labour is banned without creating alternative sources of income, it defeats the purpose. Alternate income generation schemes should also be thought of to help create a balanced social network and instill a sense of self worth in the families of the children and thus the children themselves.
  • To create more education facilities and enforce compulsory education for all children legislations because concept of compulsory education, where all school aged children are required to attend school, combats the force of poverty that pulls children out of school. The examples of Sri Lanka and Kerala show that compulsory education has worked in those areas
  • Vocational education and training for older child laborers also plays an important role in combating child labour by giving them the skills to make informed decisions.
  • There is also a need to create strong awareness campaigns, enlist community leaders and civil society organizations, empower women’s self help groups, local NGO’s etc.

Did you Know

  • Over 250 million children are working around the world.
  • 74 million children under 15 are in hazardous work and should be immediately withdrawn from this work
  • About 75 million working children are less than 10 years old.
  • Every year, more than 20,000 children die in work-related accidents.
  • The largest population of working children are in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • More than 8 million children are trapped in dangerous trades such as slavery, trafficking, debt bondage, prostitution, pornography and other illegal activities.
  • one million children work each year to manually remove pests from cotton plants.
  • The number of child soldiers in various parts of the globe has increased to about 300,000 over the past decade.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa around one in three children are engaged in child labour, representing 69 million children.
  • In South Asia, another 44 million are engaged in child labour.

How we can make a difference

  • If you live in a country which still has not ratified ILO Convention 182, then please write to the relevant government representative (usually the Minister for Labour) and urge them to ratify and implement the Convention as soon as possible.
  • Learn about the issue.
  • Support organizations that are raising awareness, and providing direct help to individual children.
  • Get involved with your local community initiatives that work against child labour.
  • Stand up against any form of child labour you witness even if it is in your neighborhood.
  • Help build pressure on and momentum against government to implement pro children programmes.
  • Pay attention and choose to buy only Ethical Clothing that are child labour free.
  • Help identify people who employ children even if it is your neighborhood grocery store and speak against them.
  • Do not employ any domestic worker, in any form, who is under 15 years of age.

More information about who child laborers are, where they live, and new statistics on the total number can be found on International Labour Organisation and Child labour campaign.


  • Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse
  • Children's Right
  • Free The Children
  • Child Labour in India: Causes, Governmental Policies and the role of Education
  • Child Labour Coalition

See Also