Child labour and exploitation

UNICEF works with partners to accelerate the elimination of child labour, and provide sustainable solutions to ensure its effective prevention.

A young boy working in factory


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. UNICEF estimates 12 percent of the children aged 5-14 years in South Asia are involved in child labour, well over 41 million children. The dynamic picture of child labour indicates a decline of about one third since 2000,  however, progress is far too slow. Children are used in some severe forms of child labour such as bonded labour, child soldiers, and trafficking. South Asian child labourers can be found in a variety of industries: the brick kilns, carpet weaving, garment making, domestic service, agriculture, fisheries, and mining. Children are also at risk for various other forms of exploitation including sexual exploitation that involves internet such as child sexual abuse materials; online facilitation of offline child sexual exploitation; involving adults or other children exposing children to pornography.  

In South Asia, child labour and exploitation are the combined product of many factors, such as poverty, social norms condoning them, lack of decent work opportunities for adults and adolescents, migration and emergencies. These factors are not only a cause but also a consequence of social inequities reinforced by discrimination. A UNICEF’s recent study points out that inequality, which stems from gender, age, socio-economic status, caste/ethnicity, influences the chance of children engaging in child labour, types of work they engage and severity of exploitation. For example, child domestic workers are mostly girls who are often hardly visible and face many hazards. Children from lower caste or marginalized ethnic groups could be more targeted for child recruitment to armed groups in conflict situations. Migrant children are also vulnerable to hidden and illicit labour and trafficking. 

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

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Children on the Sale of Children and on the Involvement of children in armed conflict, the ILO conventions (No. 138, 146 and 182) and the Trafficking in Persons Protocol which supplements the Convention on Transnational Crime provide a solid international legal framework for addressing child labour and child exploitation. There is a global recognition of the need to end the use of children in armed conflict by 2025 and of all forms of child labour by 2030 evidenced in the unanimous adoption of the SDGs and specifically Target 8.7.

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 support governments to integrate programmes that would end child labour, such as age assessment procedures to prevent the recruitment of children into the police or armed forces. UNICEF supports communities in changing their cultural acceptance of child labour, while ensuring alternative income to families, access to nurseries, quality education and protective services.

Specific to armed conflict, UNICEF and partners also collect information on grave violations committed against children including recruitment or use of children by armed forces or armed groups. Information is collected through the system called Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) and shared with the UN Security Council to develop appropriate responses to children’s needs. In the region, MRM is active in Afghanistan.

Ending child labour and exploitation requires working with partners. UNICEF works closely with Alliance 8.7 that was formed to support the achievement of the target to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms. 

UNICEF works with governments in South Asia to support the implementation of Regional Action Plan for the Prevention and Elimination of All Forms of Child Labour in South Asia 2016-2021. This action plan recognise the importance of all actors to be able to end this practice. 


These resources represent just a small selection of materials produced by UNICEF and its partners in the region. The list is regularly updated to include the latest information.