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13 years old, female – Lifelihood. (Phnom Penh-Cambodia)

Child Labour

Child Labour – the employment or use of children in work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to jeopardize their health, safety or morals (ILO 182), or is likely to interfere with the children’s education, or be harmful to the children’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. (CRC, Art. 32)

It includes slavery, forced labour, debt bondage, forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict, use of a child for illicit activities or drug trafficking, and forced begging, among others. (ILO 182, Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention)

Child labour and the worst forms of child labour, as defined by International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions, damage children’s health, threaten their education and lead to further exploitation and abuse. UNICEF does not oppose work that children may perform at home, on the family farm or for a family business – as long as that work is not a danger to their health and well-being, and if it doesn’t prevent them from going to school and enjoying childhood activities.

An estimated 246 million children are engaged in child labour. Of those, almost three-quarters (171 million) work in hazardous situations or conditions, such as 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.

Millions of girls work as domestic servants and unpaid household help and are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Millions of others work under horrific circumstances. They may be trafficked (1.2 million), forced into debt bondage or other forms of slavery (5.7 million), into prostitution and pornography (1.8 million), into participating in armed conflict (0.3 million) or other illicit activities (0.6 million). However, the vast majority of child labourers – 70 per cent or more – work in agriculture.

Facts and Figures:
  • The Asian and Pacific regions harbour the largest number of child workers in the five to 14 age group, 127.3 million in total. (19 percent of children work in the region.)
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has an estimated 48 million child workers. Almost one child in three (29 per cent) below the age of 15 works.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean have approximately 17.4 million child workers. (16 per cent of children work in the region).
  • Fifteen per cent of children work in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Approximately 2.5 million children are working in industrialized and transition economies.
  • Children working in the home of a third party or ‘employer’ are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. ILO estimates that more girls under age 16 are in domestic service than in any other category of work or child labour.

Convention on the Rights of the Child: ILO: