Child labour and exploitation

Child labour deprives children of their right to go to school and reinforces intergenerational cycles of poverty.

13-year-old Dharmendar (Name Changed), was one of the survivors who were rescued from bangle making factory in Hyderabad in 2015.
UNICEF/UN0280908/Vishwanathan

According to data from Census 2011, the number of child labourers in India is 10.1 million of which 5.6 million are boys and 4.5 million are girls. A total of 152 million children – 64 million girls and 88 million boys – are estimated to be in child labour globally, accounting for almost one in ten of all children worldwide.

Despite rates of child labour declining over the last few years, children are still being used in some severe forms of child labour such as bonded labour, child soldiers, and trafficking. Across India child labourers can be found in a variety of industries: in brick kilns, carpet weaving, garment making, domestic service, food and refreshment services (such as tea stalls), agriculture, fisheries and mining. Children are also at risk of various other forms of exploitation including sexual exploitation and production of child pornography, including online.

Child labour and exploitation are the result of  many factors, including poverty, social norms condoning them, lack of decent work opportunities for adults and adolescents, migration and emergencies. These factors are not only the cause but also a consequence of social inequities reinforced by discrimination.      

Children belong in schools not workplaces. Child labour deprives children of their right to go to school and reinforces intergenerational cycles of poverty. Child labour acts as a major barrier to education, affecting both attendance and performance in school.    

The continuing persistence of child labour and exploitation poses a threat to national economies and has severe negative short and long-term consequences for children such as denial of education and undermining physical and mental health.

Child trafficking is also linked to child labour and it always results in child abuse. Trafficked children face all forms of abuse-physical, mental, sexual and emotional. Trafficked children are subjected to prostitution, forced into marriage or illegally adopted; they provide cheap or unpaid labour, are forced to work as house servants or beggars and may be recruited into armed groups. Trafficking exposes children to violence, sexual abuse and HIV infection.

Child labour and other forms of exploitation are preventable through integrated approaches that strengthen child protection systems as well as simultaneously addressing poverty and inequity, improve access to and quality of education and mobilize public support for respecting children’s rights.

Teachers and others in the education system can be frontline supporters to protect children and can alert other stakeholders such as social workers to situations where children display signs of distress or indicate they work long hours. Getting children out of work and into school also requires broader changes in public policy to empower families to choose education over exploitative labour.

UNICEF works with government and for-profit agencies to put in place the necessary policy framework to end child labour. It works with businesses to assess the supply chains and to find sustainable options to address business practices that lead to child labour. It works with families to support the ending of labour that is a result of bonded or debt labour. UNICEF supports state governments to integrate programmes that would end child labour. We also support communities in changing their cultural acceptance of child labour, while ensuring alternative income to families, access to preschools, quality education and protection services.          

Listening to children is vital to achieving success in the fight against child labour.         

A key message in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is that children have a right to voice their views on matters affecting them and to have these taken into account. Children have the power to play a significant role in preventing and responding to child labour. They are key actors in child protection and can give valuable insights into how they perceive their involvement and what they expect from the government and other stakeholders.