Putting children at risk: child labour

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
  • Dangerous workplaces
  • Excessive working hours
  • Subjection to psychological, verbal, physical and sexual abuse
  • Limited or no pay
  • Work and life on the streets in bad conditions
  • Inability to escape from the poverty cycle – no access to education


  • The International Labour Organization estimates there are 215 million child labourers aged between five and 17 year old (ILO, 2010)
  • Just over half of these children, 115 million are estimated to work in the worst forms of child labour (ILO, 2010)
  • 53 million children under 15 year old are in hazardous work and should be “immediately withdrawn from this work” (2010)
  • 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 (ILO, 2002)
  • Girls are particularly in demand for domestic work
  • Around 70 per cent of child workers carry out unpaid work for their families


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.

Source: http://www.antislavery.org/english/slavery_today/child_labour.aspx

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