Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Child labour

UNICEF Image: child labourer, child worker, child laborer
© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-0355/Giacomo Pirozzi
A girl makes bricks at a factory in the Shahdra neighbourhood, north of Lahore, capital of Punjab Province.

Millions of children work to help their families in ways that are neither harmful nor exploitative. However, UNICEF estimates that around 150 million children aged 5-14 in developing countries, about 16 per cent of all children in this age group, are involved in child labour (UNICEF 2011 State of the World’s Children). ILO estimates that throughout the world, around 215 million children under 18 work, many full-time. In Sub Saharan African 1 in 4 children aged 5-17 work, compared to 1 in 8 in Asia Pacific and 1 in 10 in Latin America (ILO 2010 Facts on Child Labour). Although aggregate numbers suggest that more boys than girls are involved in child labour, many of the types of work girls are involved in are invisible. It is estimated that roughly 90 per cent of children involved in domestic labour are girls. (UNICEF 2011 State of the World’s Children). Even though the prevalence of child labour has been falling in recent years everywhere apart from Sub Saharan Africa where it is actually increasing with regard to children aged 5-14 (ILO 2010 Facts on Child Labour), it continues to harm the physical and mental development of children and adolescents and interfere with their education (sources: UNICEF 2011 State of the World’s Children and UNICEF Child Info webpage on child labour).

Child labour reinforces intergenerational cycles of poverty, undermines national economies and impedes achieving progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (see 2010 Outcome document of the MDG summit, p.13). It is not only a cause, but also a consequence of social inequities reinforced by discrimination. Children from indigenous groups or lower castes are more likely to drop out of school to work. Migrant children are also vulnerable to hidden and illicit labour.

UNICEF supports the Roadmap for achieving the elimination of the worst forms of child labour by 2016, which calls for an integrated response to child labour. UNICEF supports communities in changing their cultural acceptance of child labour, while supporting strategies and programming to provide alternative income to families, access to nurseries, quality education and protective services. UNICEF also works with employers and the private sector to assess and address the impact of their supply chain and business practices upon children.

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According to the 2008 Resolution II adopted during the 18th International Conference of Labour Statisticians, the term ‘child labour’ covers:

  • The worst forms of child labour, including slavery; prostitution and pornography; illicit activities; and work likely to harm children’s health, safety or morals, as defined in ILO Convention No. 182.
  • Employment below the minimum age of 15, as established in ILO Convention No. 138.
  • Hazardous unpaid household services, including household chores performed for long hours, in an unhealthy environment, in dangerous locations, and involving unsafe equipment or heavy loads.



UNICEF Child Info webpage on child labour: Statistical table and graphs
UNICEF 2011 State of the world’s children: statistical table on child labour


Young Bolivians on working in one of the world's most dangerous mines. Video.

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