Child labour and commercial sexual exploitation

© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-1269/d'Elbee
Kapaya 18, (centre, in red) speaks with other children during an outreach visit to a school in Lusaka, Zambia. He advocates against sexual exploitation and abuse of children, and participates in several child rights groups in his community.

The situation

The Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) region has the highest proportion of children involved in child labour in the world - 36 percent of all children between the ages of five and 14. This regional average, however, hides large differences between countries, ranging from 9 percent in Swaziland to 53 percent in Ethiopia.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines child labour as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity. It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling. It is worth to note that not all work done by children should be classified as child labour and needs to be eliminated. Whether or not particular forms of “work” can be called “child labour” depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed the conditions under which it is performed.

Domestic work is the leading employment for girls under the age of 16. It is a noted problem in several countries in the region, including Tanzania and Kenya. Girls who are isolated and invisible in households face high risks of abuse, and generally limited access to educational opportunities.

Commercial sexual exploitation, one of the most hazardous forms of child labour, is a particular threat to child protection in a number of countries in the region, including Kenya, South Africa and Madagascar.

A UNICEF-supported 2006 survey on sex tourism along the Kenyan coast reported that between 2,000 and 3,000 girls worked year-round as commercial sex workers, and nearly half of them started as young as 12 or 13 years of age.

The agricultural sector is the largest employer of children worldwide, accounting for 70 percent of global child labour. In Africa, it is estimated that between 56 and 72 million children work in agriculture. This is a particularly dangerous activity for children because of the risks faced when working with pesticides, tools and machinery. In ESA it is an issue of particular concern in Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, where many children work in the tea and tobacco industry.


In Uganda an increased number of children have been withdrawn from exploitative and hazardous labour by providing them with other alternatives, including support to return to their communities of origin.

UNICEF supported the development of a draft Child Labour Policy and National Plan of Action on Child Labour in Malawi and a national plan against the worst forms of child labour in Burundi.

In Comoros, UNICEF contributed to a study on the impact of poverty and migration on children and a study on child labour.

In Madagascar, an awareness-raising campaign, including communication material and videos produced in the local language, was designed to raise greater awareness of the problem of commercial sexual exploitation in communities.

Angola has developed a code of conduct under the coordination of the Ministry of Tourism, aimed at increasing protection against sexual exploitation and abuse, especially during the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament in January 2010.

Ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Fair Trade and Tourism South Africa (FTTSA) launched The International Code against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism with UNICEF and partners. Together with Kenya and Lesotho, South Africa is the only country on the African continent that has become a signatory of the Code.



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Related links

Related links

UNICEF defines child labour as work that exceeds a minimum number of hours, depending on the age of a child and on the type of work.

Ages 5-11: At least one hour of economic work or 28 hours of domestic work per week.

Ages 12-14: At least 14 hours of economic work or 28 hours of domestic work per week.

Ages 15-17: At least 43 hours of economic or domestic work per week.