Nobody knows for sure. Many countries simply do not keep statistics on child labour - on the grounds that something that is not supposed to exist should not be included in official data. But even those countries that do try to assess the numbers of children working are faced with a difficult task because so much child labour is ‘invisible’ - taking place in the informal sector, in domestic service, in the home and in the fields. These problems of measurement mean that estimates of child labour can differ greatly. All that is clear is that the number of child workers worldwide runs into the hundreds of millions.
The global picture has to be painted in broader strokes. The vast majority of all child labourers live in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Half of them can be found in Asia alone, although their proportion may be declining in South-East Asia as per capita income increases, basic education spreads and family size decreases. In Africa, one child in three is at work, and in Latin America, one child in five works. In both these continents, only a tiny proportion of child workers are involved in the formal sector and the vast majority of work is for their families, in homes, in the fields or on the streets. A substantial increase in child labour has occurred in Central and Eastern European countries as a result of the abrupt switch from centrally planned to market economies. Meanwhile, the growth of the service sector and the quest for a more flexible workforce in industrialized countries, such as the United Kingdom and the US, have contributed to an expansion of child labour.
Reliable data based on internationally agreed-upon definitions are needed on this issue if solutions are to be effective.
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