Global perspective Human stories

Fight against child labour moving in right direction, but not quickly enough – UN report

Photo: ILO
Photo: ILO

Fight against child labour moving in right direction, but not quickly enough – UN report

The number of child labourers worldwide has declined by one third since 2000, from 246 million to 168 million, the United Nations reported today, while adding that this is still not enough to achieve the goal of eliminating the worst forms of the practice by 2016.

“We are moving in the right direction but progress is still too slow. If we are serious about ending the scourge of child labour in the foreseeable future, then we need a substantial stepping-up of efforts at all levels,” said Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO). “There are 168 million good reasons to do so.”

The agency’s new report, “Marking progress against child labour,” comes ahead of next month’s Global Conference on Child Labour in Brazil. It shows that most of the progress was made between 2008 and 2012, when the global number fell from 215 to 168 million.

More than half of the 168 million child labourers worldwide are involved in hazardous work. This is work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development. The current number of children in hazardous work stands at 85 million, down from 171 million in 2000.

Among other findings, the report says that the largest absolute number of child labourers is found in the Asia-Pacific region (almost 78 million), but Sub-Saharan Africa continues to have the highest incidence of child labour in terms of proportion of the population, at over 21 per cent.

The incidence of child labour is highest in poorer countries but middle-income countries have the largest numbers of child labourers. Also, child labour among girls fell by 40 per cent since 2000, compared to 25 per cent for boys.

Agriculture remains by far the most important sector where child labourers can be found (98 million children, or 59 per cent), but the problems are not negligible in services (54 million) and industry (12 million) – mostly in the informal economy.

The report identifies a number of actions that have driven progress in the fight against child labour in recent years, noting in particular policy choices and accompanying investments in education and social protection. Other actions include the political commitment of governments and the increasing number of ratifications of the two ILO child labour conventions.

“No one can take sole credit for this result, as many have helped draw attention to the negative impacts of child labour on economic growth, the future of societies and the rights of children,” said Constance Thomas, Director of the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).

“However, the ILO’s role in leading the fight against child labour, through its standards and supervisory system, advice, capacity building and direct action, deserves special mention.”