What is child labour?
Some types of work make useful, positive contributions to a child's development. Work can help children learn about responsibility and develop particular skills that will benefit them and the rest of society. Often, work is a vital source of income that helps to sustain children and their families.
However, across the world, millions of children do extremely hazardous work in harmful conditions, putting their health, education, personal and social development, and even their lives at risk. These are some of the circumstances they face:
Full-time work at a very early age
Excessive working hours
Subjection to psychological, verbal, physical and sexual abuse
Obliged to work by circumstances or individuals
Limited or no pay
Work and life on the streets in bad conditions
Inability to escape from the poverty cycle -- no access to education
How big is the problem?
The International Labour Organization estimates there are 218 million working children.
126 million are estimated to work in the worst forms of child labour -- one in every 12 of the world's five to 17 years olds (2006)
74 million children under 15 are in hazardous work and should be "immediately withdrawn from this work" (2006)
8.4 million children are in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment for armed conflict, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities (2002)
Girls are particularly in demand for domestic work
Around 70 per cent of child workers carry out unpaid work for their families.
Trafficking involves transporting people away from the communities in which they live, by the threat or use of violence, deception, or coercion so they can be exploited as forced or enslaved workers for sex or labour. When children are trafficked, no violence, deception or coercion needs to be involved, it is merely the act of transporting them into exploitative work which constitutes trafficking.
Increasingly, children are also bought and sold within and across national borders. They are trafficked for sexual exploitation, for begging, and for work on construction sites, plantations and into domestic work. The vulnerability of these children is even greater when they arrive in another country. Often they do not have contact with their families and are at the mercy of their employers.
Why do children work?
Most children work because their families are poor and their labour is necessary for their survival. Discrimination on grounds including gender, race or religion also plays its part in why some children work.
Children are often employed and exploited because, compared to adults, they are more vulnerable, cheaper to hire and are less likely to demand higher wages or better working conditions. Some employers falsely argue that children are particularly suited to certain types of work because of their small size and "nimble fingers".
For many children, school is not an option. Education can be expensive and some parents feel that what their children will learn is irrelevant to the realities of their everyday lives and futures. In many cases, school is also physically inaccessible or lessons are not taught in the child's mother tongue, or both.
As well as being a result of poverty, child labour also perpetuates poverty. Many working children do not have the opportunity to go to school and often grow up to be unskilled adults trapped in poorly paid jobs, and in turn will look to their own children to supplement the family's income.
Where do children work?
On the land
In households -- as domestic workers
In factories -- making products such as matches, fireworks and glassware
On the street -- as beggars
Outdoor industry: brick kilns, mines, construction
In bars, restaurants and tourist establishments
In sexual exploitation
The majority of working children are in agriculture -- an estimated 70 per cent. Child domestic work in the houses of others is thought to be the single largest employer of girls worldwide.