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kNOw Child Labour

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The global number of child labourers in the age group 5-17 decreased from 246 million in 2000 to 218 million in 2004, a decrease of 11 percent. The percentage of child  labourers in this age group went down from 16 per cent (1 in 6) in 2000 to 14 per cent (1 in 7 ) in 2004.

One in every eight children 5 to 17 years old - 179 million - work in the worst forms of child labor.



Slavery is officially banned internationally by all countries, yet there are more slaves than ever before. Today there are an estimated 27 million slaves worldwide: people paid no money, locked away and controlled by violence.

An estimated 218 million children are used for labour, United Nations Childrens Fund UNICEF says.

There are around 300,000 child soldiers involved in over 30 areas of conflict worldwide, some younger than 10 years old.



BONDED LABOUR - People become bonded labourers by taking or being tricked into taking a loan for as little as the cost of medicine for a sick child. Many may never pay off the loan, which can be passed down for generations.

FORCED LABOUR - People are illegally recruited by individuals, governments or political parties and forced to work, usually under threat of violence or other penalties.

TRAFFICKING - The transport and/or trade of people from one area to another for the purpose of forcing them into conditions of slavery. Human trafficking ranks as the second largest criminal industry globally, second to drug smuggling, and equal with illegal weapons transactions.



The vast majority of the world's slaves are in South Asia, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Millions of children in India are given up by their families into virtual slavery as domestic workers.

Despite a ban on employing children under 14, India's labour ministry recently said there are 12.6 million children aged between 5 and 14 working, the largest number of child labourers in the world.



British government research shows that during 2003 there were 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution in Britain.

Romania and Bulgaria are among 11 countries listed by the United Nations as top sources of human trafficking, based on reported numbers of victims.



An estimated 200,000-800,000 people are trafficked each year in the sub-region.

In Mauritania slavery was nominally abolished at independence in 1960 and legally banned again in 1981. Yet rights groups say it persists in the interior of the nation of 3 million inhabitants, many of them nomads.

Anti-Slavery International has estimated at least 43,000 people live as slaves across Niger.

Sources: Reuters/Anti-Slavery International/


Myths of child labor

Myth 1: Children must work because of poverty…

While it is undeniable that children work, in part, because of poverty, it is not the only reason, or as important as many people may think. Poverty is too often used as an excuse for child labour, while exploitation of children in poverty lures millions of them to hazardous and intolerable forms of child labour. It is a common myth that child labour will never be eliminated until poverty disappears. 

Child labour is also a cause of poverty. When children start working at a young age they remain illiterate, unskilled and unable to demand their rights for fair wages and better conditions of work. Working long hours, they burn themselves out and their health is severely impaired. As adults, they suffer from unemployment, leading to a higher chance of their children entering into work. And so the downward spiral of exploitation and poverty is perpetuated.

Countries with very similar levels of poverty or wealth have very different rates of child labour. On the other hand, a country which is much richer than its neighbouring country can have almost equal instance of child labour.


Myth 2: We need children's hands to contribute to the family's income…

As soon as the issue of the elimination of child labour is raised, people immediately

object, “But how will poor families survive without the additional income of the

children ?” Yes, some families may have difficulty in coping without the wage of their child at first. However, the removal of children from the workforce may not cause as much problem as it first appears.

Children's wages usually contribute meagrely to the families' income. And, a large number of child labourers come from the households where their parents are unemployed or under-employed, while employers give preference to children as a cheap source of labour. Moreover, it is precisely the vast number of children in the workforce that brings down adult's wages, their bargaining power is reduced and they suffer from wide-scale unemployment. In 2003, ILO cited that the lack of ability of workers to organise, as negatively affected by child labour, is a factor in the spiralling unemployment rate.


Myth 3: Children are better suited for some work than adults…

It has been long believed that children are better suited for some work than adults. This is, for example, commonly used as an excuse for the use of child labour in the carpet weaving or in cotton seed farms because of children's “nimble fingers”. Series of evidence goes against the idea that child labour exists because children possess special attributes superior to adults' for some types of work. 

Child labourers in the manufacturing industry are commonly engaged in the production of low and medium quality products. The direct labour market demand for children in closely linked to the price of their labour, which is often naught. 

Missing out on education makes it impossible to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation and prevents children from having a better life and a safer future.


Myth 4: Child labour is necessary for poor countries' development…

No evidence supports a theory that children must work to earn for a thriving industry, until economic growth and technological advancement create their replacement. Historically, the elimination of child labour through ensuring compulsory education has furthered development of countries, whereas child labour is a mere reflection of under-investment in the future of a nation. Education is at the heart of development. Free and compulsory education of good quality has been historically identified as the key to economic growth. As long as children are in full-time work, how can they enjoy an education? Every child working is automatically being denied their full right to education.

Many studies have mapped the historical link between reducing child labour, increases in school attendance and economic growth in Western Europe and America. Compulsory education laws and the provision of schools, helped reduce child labour simultaneously and have become a precondition for rapid economic growth. Similarly, there is clear evidence of the importance of education in the rapid growth of many countries in East Asia.


Myth 5: Children's work is a good part of their early childhood education…

Millions of child labourers miss their precious time of physical and mental development to days and nights of work. Schooling does not only teach the children skills for the future employment but gives an opportunity to socialise and relate to the people in social settings. Education is also to empower them, by learning what their basic rights are, and realising their potential. Work has a disproportionate affect on girls – whether in the labour force or in the household – and is more likely to keep them from enrolling in or attending school.

A recent study has shown that adults, who worked in industries as children are less productive than their counterparts who didn't start working until adulthood dispelling the idea that children benefit from early training from child labour in later life.

ILO studies indicate that the benefits of universal education up to the minimum age of work would far outweigh the respective costs – as much as three times.

Investments in quality child-care and early childhood education do more than pay significant returns to children.


Myth 6: Children have the right to decent work…

Protecting the right of children to work and the needs to improve their working conditions have recently been advocated by some groups but this very concept is a violation of the provisions in the already agreed international conventions concerning children.

A child's rights are non-negotiable and equally borne by all children, regardless of their economic, social, or biological background. Circumstantial compulsion to work due to the economic necessity or other reasons do not create a new 'right' of children to work, in neglect of ensuring the rights to education, play and health, and to be protected against economic exploitation. Forcing young children to work for their own survival is society's repudiation of their fundamental rights.

Everybody can help make a difference every day with small choices that have big impacts. Here are some ways:

Don’t employ children in your homes and businesses.

Don’t buy products that have been made by child labourers.

If you know someone who employs children, report them to the authorities.

Any time you see something on the Global March website that interests you or informs or inspires you, send it to a friend - or five.

Subscribe to Global March e-newsletter CLNS and learn how to become a Virtual Activist.

Run a small campaign against exploitation of children.

Want to volunteer? We can use any skill: from envelope stuffing to primary researching. 


Key Statistics

The global number of child labourers in the age group 5-17 decreased from 246 million in 2000 to 218 million in 2004, a decrease of 11 per cent. The percentage of child  labourers in this age group went down from 16 per cent (1 in 6) in 2000 to 14 per cent (1 in 7 ) in 2004.

The number of children aged 5-17 engaged in hazardous work has declined by 26 per cent, from 171 million in 2000 to 126 million in 2004. With 33 per cent, the decline in the age group 5-14 has even been sharper.

Around 5 million children have benefited directly or indirectly from IPEC's work.

Latin America and the Caribbean stand out in terms of a rapid decline of child labour. The number of children at work in the region has fallen by two-thirds over the last four years, with just 5 per cent of children ages 5-14 now engaged in work.

With 26 per cent, or close to 50 million child workers, the proportion of children engaged in economic activities in sub-Saharan Africa is currently the highest of any region in the world.

In the Asian-Pacific region, 122 million children ages 5-14 are engaged in work, 5 million fewer than four years ago. Less than 20 per cent of Asian children in that age group are now at work.

In industrialized countries, about 2.5 million children under the age of 15 were at work in 2000.

Almost 7 out of 10 working children are in the agricultural sector; whereas 22 per cent work in services and 9 per cent in industry, including mining, construction and manufacturing.

The estimated cost of the elimination of child labour is US$760 billion over a 20-year period. The estimated benefit in terms of better education and health is over US$4 trillion. The economic benefits would therefore outweigh the costs by nearly 6 to 1, not to mention the unquantifiable social benefits to be gained.


The Fight Against Child Labour: A Timeline

Eliminating child labour is an essential element in the ILO's goal of "Decent Work for All". The ILO tackles child labour not as an isolated issue but as an integral part of national efforts for economic and social development.

1919 The first International Labour Conference adopts the first international Convention against child labour, the Minimum Age (Industry) Convention (No. 5).

1930 Adoption of the first Forced Labour Convention (No. 29).

1973 Adoption of the Minimum Age Convention (No. 138).

1992 The ILO establishes the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).

1996 Stockholm Declaration and Agenda for Action: The elaboration of the principle that a crime against a child in one place is a crime anywhere. The ILO codifies this into an international standard by developing a convention three years later which spells out the role of enforcement and penalties.

1998 Origin of Global March Against Child Labour

1998 Adoption of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work: Freedom of  association, abolition of forced labour, end of discrimination in the workplace and elimination of child labour. All ILO member States pledge to uphold and promote these principles.

1999 Adoption of the ILO's Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182). Focused world attention on the need to take immediate action to eradicate those forms of child labour that are hazardous and damaging to children's physical, mental or moral wellbeing. Convention 182 has been ratified by 9 out of 10 ILO member States while Convention 138 has been ratified by 4 out of 5 ILO Member States.

2001 The first Time Bound Programmes on the implementation of Convention 182 and 138 are launched by three countries. Over 20 countries are currently implementing time bound programmes with ILO support.

2002 The ILO publishes its first Global Report on Child Labour and establishes 12 June as World Day Against Child Labour. The Organization supports more than 80 countries in formulating their own programmes to combat child labour.

2004 First ILO global study on the costs and benefits of eliminating child labour says that economic benefits would outweigh costs by nearly 6 to 1.

2006 The ILO's second Global Report on Child Labour on child labour says that child labour is declining worldwide.

For more information on the ILO’s International Programme to Eliminate Child Labour (IPEC), please visitwww.ilo.org/ipec or for information on child labour visit www.ilo.org/declaration