Sourcevie selling embers in a community market in the DRC.

Child Labour: What you need to know

As many as 160 million children around the world are engaged in child labour, working in jobs that deprive them of their childhood, interfere with schooling, or harm their mental, physical, or social development.

Nearly half of them — 79 million children — work under hazardous conditions, such as carrying heavy loads on construction sites or digging in open-pit mines. By definition, child labour is a violation of both child protection and child rights.

Poverty is the primary reason children are sent to work. But sadly, child labour keeps children from getting the education they need to break the cycle of poverty.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), a UN agency, 70% of child labourers are involved in family agriculture.

Joytun was injured in a bakery fire at work. Now she's preparing to return to school.
Joytun was injured in a bakery fire at work. Now she's preparing to return to school.


Some work long hours in factories or in domestic service. Others are in forced labour, including child soldiers and sexual exploitation.

The number of children in child labour has risen for the first time in 20 years, according to the latest UNICEF/ILO report

Additional economic shocks and school closures caused by COVID-19 mean that children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while many more may be forced into the worst forms of child labour due to job and income losses among vulnerable families.

Globally, 9 million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic, the report warns.

Since 2012, incidents of child labour increased in sub-Saharan Africa. Clearly, a stronger global effort will be required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating all forms of child labour worldwide by 2025.

June 12 is the United Nations-sanctioned World Day Against Child Labour, a time to remember the young workers who have been robbed of their childhood, education, and the future they deserve.

Akhi was removed from child labour and now runs her own business.
Akhi, 17, was removed from child labour and now has her own business.


What is child labour?

Child labour is the exploitation of children who are deprived of their childhood by work that prevents them from attending school or causes physical, mental, or social harm.

In their early developmental years, children are especially vulnerable to injuries, though physical and mental health problems may not be evident for years.

Where is child labour a problem?

Child labour is concentrated in the world’s poorest countries, where 40.7% of children are engaged in exploitative work. Sub-Saharan Africa, home to 27 of the world’s 28 lowest income countries, now has more children in child labour tha the rest of the world combined. Child labour is also common in areas where there is insecurity or armed conflict.

Family poverty and poor schools are two major reasons children in low-income countries are in the labour force.

However, child labour is not confined to low-income countries. About 93 million children, or 58% of those in child labour, live in middle-income countries; 1.6 million child labourers live in high-income countries.

Rabson was a cattle herder and now is getting an education.
Rabson was a cattle herder and now is getting an education.


What are the worst forms of child labour?

The ILO’s Convention No. 182 defines hazardous and morally damaging forms of labour and calls for their immediate and total elimination. As defined by the convention, the worst forms of child labour include:

  • Slavery or similar practices
  • Child trafficking
  • Forced recruitment into armed conflict
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Drug production and trafficking or other illegal acts
  • Debt bondage
  • Hazardous work that can cause injury or moral corruption

How can I help end child labour?

Pray for children trapped in work that puts them in danger or prevents them from attending school. Ask God to protect them from further exploitation so that they may enjoy the physical, mental, and spiritual nurture they need to maximise their potential.

Give to support World Vision’s grassroots work around the world to protect children from child labour and other forms of exploitation, abuse, and violence.

Sponsor a child. By investing in a child’s life, you’ll help them stay in school. You’ll also help to build up their community so that there’ll be more job opportunities for them to pursue as adults.

Angel wants to stop child labour in her Philippines community.
Angel wants to stop child labour in her Philippines community.


What is World Vision doing to end child labour?

World Vision places children at the centre of all our work to transform communities for good. We empower children to know their rights and work toward their own well-being. And we work with their parents and communities to see that kids are protected and that their futures are not stolen by labour exploitation.

By taking initiative in these areas, we help create a protective environment that cares for and supports all children:

  • Providing educational services to enhance instruction quality and improve the learning environment
  • Providing support for parents to improve their incomes and food security so that children don’t need to work
  • Encouraging support for national child labour laws and their enforcement
  • Promoting social accountability for communities, governments, and businesses to combat child labour
  • Equipping communities — faith leaders, parents, and community groups — to monitor vulnerable children to keep them out of hazardous work and help their families survive without their child’s income
  • Promoting decent work for youth who are above the minimum working age through training, life skills and entrepreneurship, as well as savings and credit services
  • Empowering girls and boys to understand their rights and develop the skills to meaningfully transform their communities
Luigi and Luis help their father worked at this cemetery in Venezuela.
Luigi and Luis help their father worked at this cemetery in Venezuela.


History of child labour

Children have always contributed to the economic upkeep of their families through farm labour and handicrafts.

However, the growth of manufacturing and farm mechanisation during the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries led to many children working under dangerous conditions in factories and farms.

This in turn prompted children labour laws that not only regulated child labour conditions, but also mandated education. Here are some highlights of child labour history:

1973 — The Minimum Age Convention, ratified by 172 countries, sets the minimum age for employment but allows some exceptions.

1989 — The UN enacts the Convention on the Rights of the Child to guarantee protection of children’s rights to grow and thrive.

1992 — The International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) is founded to promote the global elimination of child labour and to support countries in their efforts.

1999 — The ;Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, ratified by 186 countries, requires ending practices like slavery, child trafficking, debt bondage, forced labour in armed conflict, prostitution, pornography, drug trafficking, and other illicit activities.

2021 — The UN General Assembly declares this to be the Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.

2025 — All forms of child labour are to end this year under Target 8.7 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.