Child labour has serious consequences
that stay with the individual and with society for far longer than the years of childhood. Young workers not only face dangerous
working conditions. They face long-term physical, intellectual and emotional stress. They face an adulthood of unemployment
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Child trafficking from Benin to Gabon -- a photograph gallery
How big is the problem?
- The International
Labour Organization estimates there are
218 million working children aged between five and 17 (2006)
- 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under 15 are in hazardous work and should be "immediately withdrawn from this work" (2006)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?
households -- as domestic workers
factories -- making products such as matches, fireworks and glassware
the street -- as beggars
industry: brick kilns, mines, construction
bars, restaurants and tourist establishments
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.
Export industries account
for only an estimated five per cent of child labour. To see what you can do to help see our Fair Trade, Slave Trade leaflet.
Case Studies from around the world:
Dieusibon -- Haiti
"When I first moved to Port-au-Prince I cleaned dishes, the house, everything. My 'aunt'
would beat me whenever I didn't get water. I worked so hard that my body ached and I couldn't move, but she would beat me
if I didn't do more work. Her three children went to school...One day my aunt sent me to fetch water. I refused, so she took
a pot of boiling water and threw it at me and burned my face and slammed the hot cooking pot on my hand."
Dieusibon*, 14, ran away and found help
from a shelter in Haiti.
Mohen and Nihal -- India
In Pakistan, brothers Mohen and Nihal* began working on carpet
looms when they were four and five years old in order to help their family meet their basic needs.
"The health hazards caused to us are
that our fingers are trimmed and we have to work all day long. Often for a couple of days in a week, we have to work for the
whole day and night.
Mohen often gets miserable and fatigued
with the long hours or work and he tries to escape. Then the master weaver keeps a strict watch on him and never lets him
move for three or four days.”
Ahmed -- United Arab Emirates
When Ahmed* was five years old he was trafficked
from Bangladesh to the United Arab Emirates to be a camel jockey. He was forced to train
and race camels in Dubai for three years.
"I was scared .... If I made a mistake
I was beaten with a stick. When I said I wanted to go home I was told I never would. I didn't enjoy camel racing, I was really
afraid. I fell off many times. When I won prizes several times, such as money and a car, the camel owner took everything.
I never got anything, no money, nothing; my family also got nothing."
Ahmed was only returned home after a
Bangladesh official identified him during a visit to Dubai in November 2002. Our local partner Bangladesh National Women Lawyers'
Association provided him with the specialist support and help he needed to resume his life with his family.
What do children want -- child domestic workers speak out
From May to October 2004, Anti-Slavery International and its local partners undertook consultations with more than
450 current and former child domestic workers in nine countries in Africa, Asia
and Latin America. Consultations took place in Benin,
Costa Rica, India,
and Togo reflecting the reality of child domestic
labour in many countries. The majority of those who participated were female -- but more than 100 boys also took part.
Cutting across cultural and language divides, the child domestic workers who were consulted had some clear messages
about the best kinds of assistance to protect them from the daily abuse and exploitation that many of them endure. Their common
appeal for those who seek to help them are:
- To provide opportunities for education and training which allow them to move on from domestic work;
- To assist them in seeking redress from abusive and/or exploitative employers;
- Not to alienate employers, but to make them part of the solution to their problems;
- To provide more services which cater specifically to the needs of child domestic workers (since their needs
are often quite different from those of other child workers);
- To develop longer-term interventions, i.e. not to develop services for them and then pull-out after just
one or two years;
- To develop interventions which take into consideration some of the issues which most affect child domestic
workers, for example, early pregnancy and the effect of HIV/AIDS;
- More awareness raising about their situation, and to ensure that this awareness raising goes hand-in-hand
with concrete services for child domestic workers;
- Assistance in accessing government and state infrastructure that can help them; for example, in obtaining
birth certificates, enrolling in school, in accessing health care, in locating families and returning home.
Perhaps the strongest message to emerge from the consultations was the importance of those providing assistance to
talk to the children themselves about what they need. The work of Anti-Slavery International's partners in this area has shown
that the most effective interventions are those which systematically involve child domestic workers themselves in the planning
and implementation of their projects and programmes.
There are about 300,000 child soldiers involved in over 30 areas of conflict worldwide, some even younger than 10
years old. Child soldiers fight on the front line, and also work in support roles; girls are often obliged to be sex slaves
or "soldiers' wives". Children involved in conflict are severely affected by their experiences and can suffer from long-term
trauma. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict
entered into force on 12 February 2002, which encourages governments to raise the age of voluntary recruitment into the armed
forces and explicitly states that no person under the age of 18 should be sent into battle.
The United Kingdom, which has the lowest
minimum recruitment age in Europe at 16, ratified the Optional Protocol on
24 June 2003. The Government, however, added a declaration
to reserve the right to send under-18s into hostilities "if there is a genuine military need" or "due to the nature or urgency
of the situation". This clause is in direct conflict with the spirit of the Protocol, which urges that states "take all feasible
measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years old do not take a direct part
Action against child labour
International law forms the basis of our work against the worst forms of child labour. The Conventions of the International
Labour Organization, the 1926 and 1956 Slavery Conventions and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are the
major tools we use.
- Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989):
"State Parties recognize
the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous
or to interfere with the child's education or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or
- Convention 182 of the International Labour Organization (1999):
The main aim of Convention 182 is to
eliminate the worst forms of child labour. It stresses that immediate action is needed to tackle the worst exploitation of
children, and that measures taken by the authorities should start as soon as the government is able following ratification.
The main provisions of the convention are to clarify which situations should be classified as the worst forms of child labour,
and to specify what governments must do to prohibit and eliminate them. A copy of the full text of Convention 182 can be found
Anti-Slavery International's work on child labour
Anti-Slavery International is not a funding body, but works with organisations around the world which work specifically
in the field of child labour.
Anti-Slavery International has worked on child labour since the early 1900s. We have been
systematically working on child labour issues since the 1970s, mainly in research and international advocacy. Relevant ILO
and UN standards underpin all Anti-Slavery International's work on child labour. We work collaboratively with other NGOs,
inter-governmental bodies and trade unions, and focus on the worst forms of child labour and slavery-like practices.
International currently works in partnership with local partners on:
specific expertise on the subject of children in domestic service. This has involved: publishing hard evidence about the situation
of child domestic workers in several countries; developing good practice tools on research and advocacy for use by NGOs and
others at national and local levels; consolidating and building an international network of NGOs sharing information and expertise
about child domestic work issues; and identifying and promoting good practice in programme interventions, particularly those
which best protect child domestic workers from abuse and exploitation.
for the adoption and implementation of legislation in Gulf States
prohibiting under 18s being trafficked and used as camel jockeys, and the prosecution of those involved.
- Increasing understanding and raising awareness of other issues, including children in the cocoa industry,
forced child begging, and the health and psychosocial effects of the worst forms of child labour, particularly children in
Anti-Slavery International also founded a Sub-Group on Child Labour of the Geneva-based NGO Group for the Convention
on the Rights of the Child, and remains an active member.
Child Slavery Now -- an international conference is to be held on all aspects of child slavery at the Wilberforce Institute for
the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE), University of Hull, UK
in association with Anti-Slavery International, Gilda Lehrman
Center, Yale University
and Free the Slaves on November 27-28 2008.
Original sin is the difference between your pleasures and my pleasures--BF Skinner