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.