Nearly 1 in 10 children are subjected to child labour worldwide, with some forced into hazardous work through trafficking.
Economic hardship exacts a toll on millions of families worldwide – and in some places, it comes at the price of a child’s physical safety. Nearly 1 in 10 children across the globe (around 152 million) are subjected to child labour, almost half of whom are in hazardous forms of work.
Children may be driven into work for various reasons. Most often, child labour occurs when families face financial challenges or uncertainty – whether due to poverty, sudden illness of a caregiver, or job loss of a primary wage earner.
The consequences are staggering. Child labour can result in extreme bodily and mental harm, and even death. It can lead to slavery and sexual or economic exploitation. And in nearly every case, it cuts children off from schooling and health care, restricting their fundamental rights and threatening their futures.
Migrant and refugee children – many of whom have been uprooted by conflict, disaster or poverty – also risk being forced into work and even trafficked, especially if they are migrating alone or taking irregular routes with their families.
Trafficked children are often subjected to violence, abuse and other human rights violations. And some may be forced to break the law. For girls, the threat of sexual exploitation looms large, while boys may be exploited by armed forces or groups.
Children on the move risk being forced into work or even trafficked – subjected to violence, abuse and other human rights violations.
Whatever the cause, child labour compounds social inequality and discrimination, and robs girls and boys of their childhood. Unlike activities that help children develop, such as contributing to light housework or taking on a job during school holidays, child labour limits access to education and harms a child’s physical, mental and social growth. Especially for girls, the “triple burden” of school, work and household chores heightens their risk of falling behind, making them even more vulnerable to poverty and exclusion.
- The incidence of hazardous work in countries affected by armed conflict is 50% higher than the global average.
- Nearly 1 in 10 children – some 152 million – are in child labour, almost half of whom work in hazardous conditions.
- 30 million children live outside their country of birth, increasing their risk of being trafficked for sexual exploitation and other work.
- By 2025, an estimated 121 million children will be in child labour, with 52 million enduring hazardous work.
UNICEF works to prevent and respond to child labour, especially by strengthening the social service workforce. Social service workers play a key role in recognizing, preventing and managing risks that can lead to child labour. Our efforts develop and support the workforce to identify and respond to potential situations of child labour through case management and social protection services, including early identification, registration and interim rehabilitation and referral services.
We also focus on strengthening parenting and community education initiatives to address harmful social norms that perpetuate child labour, while partnering with national and local governments to prevent violence, exploitation and abuse.
With the International Labour Organization (ILO), we help to collect data that make child labour visible to decision makers. These efforts complement our work to strengthen birth registration systems, ensuring that all children possess birth certificates that prove they are under the legal age to work.
Children removed from labour must also be safely returned to school or training. UNICEF supports increased access to quality education and provides comprehensive social services to keep children protected and with their families.
To address child trafficking, we work with United Nations partners and the European Union on initiatives that reach 13 countries across Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
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Last updated 3 September 2020