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What is Child Labour?

Child labour is considered to be work that is dangerous to children's physical, mental and moral development and that robs them of their childhood. According to the ILO, child labour can include work that:

Is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and interferes with their schooling by:

  • Depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;
  • Obliging them to leave school prematurely;
  • Requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

Ranging from jobs such as being employed in a stone quarry to making clothes in a factory to serving as a domestic worker to working as a prostitute or child soldier, each has a severe detrimental impact on a child enjoying and benefiting from their childhood.

This needs to be stopped in a responsible and sustainable method. Examining conditions such as the child's age, the number of hours worked and the conditions the child is working in are factors that can help determine whether or not the child is working as a child labourer.

The causes of child labour are often what you would expect them to be - poverty and a need to financially support their family, lack of ability to access a classroom education, vulnerability to exploitation, and governments that are unable or unwilling to enforce national and international child labour laws and make stopping child labour a priority.

The effects of child labour can be huge and incredibly harmful to a child's development. Not only can it prevent children from receiving an education, but it can also remove children from their families and expose them to dangerous and life threatening diseases and hazardous working conditions.

Facts about Child Labour

  • According to the ILO, though child labour declined slightly from 2004-8, 215 million children under 18 years of age engage in child labour and 115 in the most abusive forms, including sexual exploitation, pornography, slavery, armed conflict, and drug trafficking.
  • The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimated in 2004 that there were 10,000 under-age girls used in commercial sexual exploitation in Bangladesh alone, but other estimates placed the figure as high as 29,000.
  • With 12.6 million children engaged in hazardous occupations, India has the largest number of child labourers under the age of 14 in the world (UNICEF, 2010).
  • Child labour for children from 15 to 17 years of age has increased by 20%, from 52 to 62 million (ILO, 2010).
  • The Asia-Pacific region has more children engaged in child labour than anywhere else in the world (113.6 million), with sub-Saharan Africa (65.1 million) and Latin America and the Caribbean (14.1 million) following (ILO, 2010).
  • 1 in 4 children in sub-Saharan Africa is a child labourer (ILO, 2010).
  • 60% of child labourers work in agriculture (ILO, 2010).
  • Working as a child soldier is one of the worst forms of child labour and UNICEF states that there are approximately 300,000 child soldiers worldwide.
Child Labour and the Law
While numerous NGOs and civil society are working to combat child labour, international law is meant to protect these children in the first place. Notable legislation regarding child labour:
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
  • Ratified by 193 countries - the most widely ratified human rights instrument.
  • Article 32: States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
Minimum Age Convention (ILO Convention 138)
  • Ratified by 158 countries.
  • Binds States to an agreed upon minimum working age.
  • Article 1: Each Member for which this Convention is in force undertakes to pursue a national policy designed to ensure the effective abolition of child labour and to raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons.
Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (ILO Convention 182)
  • Ratified by 173 countries.
  • Commits them to take action to prevent children from entering into the worst forms of child labour.
  • Article 3 defines these as: 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; the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; 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; 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.
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
  • Commitment made by all 192 UN member states.
  • Supports eradicating child labour, particularly through its goals to achieve universal primary education (Goal 2) and eradicate extreme poverty and hunger (Goal 1).
  • Urgency as there is a deadline to reach these goals by 2015.
ILO Global Action Plan
  • States commit themselves to eliminate worst forms of child labour by 2016.
  • Strives to achieve universal ratification of ILO Conventions 138 and 182.
  • Promotes national policies regarding eliminating child labour.
  • Continues to monitor child labour figures and disseminate this information.
Evidently, there is considerable international support to keep children out of child labour and many States have entered legally binding commitments to honour children's rights and protect them from hazardous labour. But this can be easier said than done and countries need support from the international community to ensure that child labour policies are promoted and that these rights are realised. This is especially vital if these 2015/2016 target dates are to be met.
We're Tackling Child Labour Worldwide
ChildHope supports multiple projects that address and combat child labour in countries including Peru, India, Bangladesh, and Ethiopia. In Peru, ChildHope is working with local organisation Proceso Social, in order to support children and adolescents working in rubbish recycling and empower them to claim their rights.

In 2010, journalist Finola Robinson offered her reflections on the situation of marginalised children in Peru and the difference that our work is making in the most disadvantaged communities of Northern Lima.

Different Approaches to Tackling Child Labour
There are many different approaches to solving the problem of child labour, but not one perfect solution. Each country and culture has a different context and situational complexities that can require a detailed and tailored approach. Many working children are helping to bring in an income for their family and to provide for their brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, and themselves.

There is a responsibility on their shoulders to aid in not only their survival, but that of their family. Though there is the natural desire to immediately remove children from working in factories, there is also the concern that by removing them from one job, they may enter into another and one that may potentially be even more dangerous and hazardous to their development.

Recognising that there is a need to replace this income with more sustainable means, many organisations focus on supporting families and their children in achieving long-term financial stability. What many are also doing is empowering children to be an active part in this process to stop child labour and to understand their rights and advocate for their fair treatment.

ChildHope works with many organisations who are all working towards the same mission to stop child labour, but who each take a slightly different approach:

  • Proceso Social in Peru focuses not only on the parent's ability to improve their earning capabilities, but also work to enable schools to pay attention to the needs of former child labourers. They focus on preventing children from returning to dangerous working conditions by creating a safe environment for them to thrive in and be financially cared for.
  • Butterflies in India sets up savings and credit systems for street and working children that teaches them financial responsibility by showing them how to save money, earn interest and make logical investments. In addition, Butterflies encourages children to stay in school and runs training courses to educate them on the necessary and helpful skills to eventually be a successful working professional.
  • The Organisation for Child Development in Ethiopia looks at the root causes of what makes children enter child labour in the first place and works with local governments and communities to aid runaway children who are at risk of being tricked or forced into domestic labour, street work or prostitution.
  • The Concerned for Working Children approach is to tackle the stigma that demeans and demoralises these former working children and to empower them to know their rights and advocate for their future. They run training sessions with children to educate them on their rights and also let them know about child-run unions and peer support groups. These not only give them a much needed support structure, but also give them a shared voice to lobby for their individual and collective rights.
Each of these approaches, though slightly different, are working towards a mutually shared goal and chipping away at the large numbers of children that comprise the 215 million child labourers.

ChildHope believes that in order to effectively stop the use of child labour we must engage in a collaborative approach and work with governments, local agencies, community leaders, schools, families and the children themselves.

We must let children's voices be heard and work together to eradicate child labour.

How Can You Stop Child Labour?
While progress has been made to reduce the numbers of children in child labour, the rate of decline is slow and more progress is needed.

Please consider making a donation to support our work removing children from hazardous labour and improving their living conditions.

  • £5 a month could help enable one family in Peru to start their own business, preventing them from having to rely on their children to engage in labour such as rubbish recycling.
  • £25 per month is equivalent to the cost educating 20 children for one year in Ethiopia, helping prevent child labour.
Signing up for our eNewsletter is another great way to keep informed about our work stopping child labour and challenging the violence and stigma that children face.

Please help ChildHope and the international community's collective fight to eliminate the worst forms of child labour by 2016 as it is only together that we can make a tangible and sustainable impact for the 215 million children.

Information compiled by Lianne Minasian, ChildHope volunteer

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