Child labour means that children are forced to work like adults and take part in an economic activity. According to the ILO International Labour Organization this is applied to people up to age fifteen, or seventeen in case of dangerous work. Even though only about a fourth of the ILO members have ratified the respective convention, this age limit is generally accepted.
Child labour refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful.
Child labour is fundamentally different from casual work done by children, like guarding other children, or helping here and there. Child labour is forbidden in most countries. These days we see many minor boys and girls working in tea stalls, restaurants, hotels and other small shops. Some work in huge factories like brick factories. This is caused due to child labour, and the main reason why child labour occurs is poverty.
There are two kinds of work that minors can do:
- Some work they do is acceptable, as it is only light, or easy to do. Children can also do it while they are well-integrated into the family. This kind of work can be done in addition to an education the children are getting.
- The other kind of work is difficult to do, or it is physically exhausting. It may be dangerous, the children may be required to work for long hours and in humiliating clothing.
In general the second kind of work is usually labelled child labour. Estimates are that up to 350 million children are affected by child labour, eight million of these are affected by one of the worst forms of child labour: they are child soldiers, they are forced into prostitution, they are used for child pornography, they are child slaves, debt bondage or affected by human trafficking.
There are many prejudices against child labor in the Western world: Very often such cases are known through scandals made by the mass media: In that manner, a working child is often seen as a slave, working in a sweat shop in a third world country, producing textiles, or as one of the street children in South America. The reality is different though: Such shops exist all over the world, also in countries like the United States or Italy. The fact that child labour is involved is often hidden: More than three quarters of this work is done in the sector of agriculture, or it has to do with activities done at home, in the context of the family. If child-slaves exist, they are only a minority. This form of work done by children also existed before industrialisation and globalisation, the two phenomena have made it more visible, at best.
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Child working in a mine, early 19th century England.
Laws on child labour, the Factory Acts, were passed in Britain in the 19th century. Children younger than nine were not allowed to work, those aged 9–16 could work 16 hours per day: Cotton Mills Act. In 1856, the law permitted child labour past age 9, for 60 hours per week, night or day. In 1901, the child labour age was raised to 12.
- ↑Table 2.8, WDI 2005, The World Bank
- ↑Percentage of children aged 5–14 engaged in child labour
- ↑The life of the industrial worker in nineteenth-century England. Laura Del Col, West Virginia University.
- ↑The Factory and Workshop Act 1901
- ↑Basu K. 1999. Child labor: cause, consequence, and cure, with remarks on International Labor Standards. Journal of Economic Literature, 37, pp. 1083-1119.
- ↑Carol Bellamy, Executive Director (2011). "UNICEF State of the World's Children 1997". Oxford University Press for UNICEF. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-0355/Giacomo Pirozzi|
|A girl makes bricks at a factory in the Shahdra neighbourhood, north of Lahore, capital of Punjab Province.|
Millions of children around the world are trapped in child labour, depriving them of their childhood, their health and education, and condemning them to a life of poverty and want. Of course, there is work that children do to help their families in ways that are neither harmful nor exploitative. But many children are stuck in unacceptable work for children – a serious violation of their rights.
Recent global estimates based on data of UNICEF, the ILO and the World Bank indicate that 168 million children aged 5 to 17 are engaged in child labour. Millions of them suffer in the other worst forms of child labour, including slavery and slavery-like practices such as forced and bonded labour and child soldiering, sexual exploitation, or are used by adults in illicit activities, including drug trafficking.
Despite a steady decline in child labour, progress is far too slow. At current rates, more than 100 million children will still be trapped in child labour by 2020. The continuing persistence of child labour poses a threat to national economies and has severe negative short and long term consequences for the fulfillment of children’s rights guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – including denial of education and frequent exposure to violence.
Child labour spans various sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing, quarrying and mining, and domestic service. Often, it is hidden from the public eye. For example, the estimated 15.5 million child domestic workers worldwide – mostly girls – are often hardly visible and face many hazards. Child labour is the combined product of many factors, such as poverty, social norms condoning it, lack of decent work opportunities for adults and adolescents, migration, and emergencies.
Child labour reinforces intergenerational cycles of poverty, undermines national economies and impedes achieving progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is not only a cause, but also a consequence of social inequities reinforced by discrimination. Children from indigenous groups or lower castes are more likely to drop out of school to work. Migrant children are also vulnerable to hidden and illicit labour.
Child labour is preventable, not inevitable. UNICEF believes that effective action against child labour requires children to be placed squarely at the centre of programmes designed to protect children’s rights. Looking at child labour through a broader lens – addressing the full range of children’s vulnerabilities and protection challenges – comes as a result of the recognition that these wider concerns are not always fully addressed in action against child labour. For more information on UNICEF’s approach to tackling child labour, click here.
UNICEF supports the achievement of SDG Target 8.7 which provides that States take “immediate and effective measures to … secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”. Target 8.7 is linked to several other targets, including target 16.2 aimed at ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children, Goal 1 on poverty, Goal 4 on Education; and Goal 5 on ending violence against women and girls and gender equality, including harmful practices. To support the achievement of Target 8.7, UNICEF pursues a multisector approach to child labour, including legal reform, education, social protection, access to health services and the data collection, and supports partnerships with UN agencies and other key stakeholders to mount a sustained effort to accelerate child labour reduction across regions. UNICEF supports communities in changing their cultural acceptance of child labour, while supporting strategies and programming to provide alternative income to families, quality education, and protective services.
In various countries and regions, UNICEF and partners have strengthened child protection systems, which have led to a comprehensive response to children’s issues. In turn, this has resulted in decreased child labour and an overall improvement of children’s well-being. Access the most recent data on child labour prevalence by country and region here.
UNICEF also works with employers and the private sector to assess and address the impact of their supply chain and business practices upon children, and promote programmes that contribute to the elimination of child labour through sustainable solutions to address its root causes.
UNICEF also partners with civil society organizations to support a holistic child protection approach to child labour, contribute to the evidence base on child labour through research and data collection, and advocate across all stakeholders to end child labour.
Visit the resources page for more information.
According to the 2008 Resolution II adopted during the 18th International Conference of Labour Statisticians, the term ‘child labour’ covers:
- The worst forms of child labour, including slavery; prostitution and pornography; illicit activities; and work likely to harm children’s health, safety or morals, as defined in ILO Convention No. 182.
- Employment below the minimum age of 15, as established in ILO Convention No. 138.
- Hazardous unpaid household services, including household chores performed for long hours, in an unhealthy environment, in dangerous locations, and involving unsafe equipment or heavy loads.
Young Bolivians on working in one of the world's most dangerous mines. Video.