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Child Labor Robbing Millions of Health, Education and Growth, UNICEF Says

NEW YORK (June 12, 2013) — On the World Day Against Child Labor, UNICEF today called attention to the millions of children around the world who are engaged in some form of hazardous or exploitative work, usually at the expense of their health, education, overall wellbeing, and development.

According to the organization, millions of children work to support their families, but child labor becomes unacceptable when it is carried out by children who are too young and who should be in school. In addition, there are many children who are doing work unsuitable for anyone under 18. In the worst forms of child labor, children are exposed to health hazards and to physical danger, their development is threatened, and they are subjected to exploitation. 

"We understand that many children work to support their families," said Susan Bissell, UNICEF's global head of child protection. "However when children are forced into the most dangerous forms of labor, when they then miss school, when they are at risk and their health and well-being are impaired, this is unacceptable. Actions must be taken to address this situation, including preventing it from happening in the first place."

UNICEF estimates that around 150 million children between the ages of five and 14, or nearly one in six children in this age group, are involved in child labor. According to the latest estimates from the International Labour Organization, 7.4 million children in the same age group are engaged in domestic work, which is disproportionately carried out by girls.

Domestic workers are among the most exploited and abused workers for a number of reasons, including discrimination, exclusion from labor laws, and the isolated nature of the work. Children are at even greater risk, due to their young ages, lack of awareness of their rights, separation from their families, and dependence on their employers. While not all child domestic workers suffer abuse or exploitation, children working in this field are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, forced labor, and the worst forms of child labor, making child domestic work one of the most widespread and potentially exploitative forms of child work in the world today.

In some countries, innovative work at ending child labor is already paying off. In Gujarat, India, for example, UNICEF has partnered with the IKEA Foundation to form Adolescent Girls Networks (AGN), which train young people on issues pertaining to child rights violations, including child labor and child marriage. AGNs have been formed across all 3,450 villages in Gujarat, with around 35,000 members who advocate for the rights of children engaged in child labor. They identify other children working—in cotton fields, for example—and then persuade their parents to send them back to school. AGNs identified 61,827 out-of-school children. About 20,000 children are now back attending school.

UNICEF supports the ILO Convention 189 on Domestic Workers, adopted in 2011, which is particularly focused on women and girls in domestic service, and congratulated Uruguay, Philippines and Mauritius for being the first countries to ratify the Convention. Another 20 countries have started national dialogues on the issue of domestic work around the process of adoption of the ILO Convention.

UNICEF helps countries develop and implement comprehensive programs to address child labor, from legal and policy frameworks, to increasing government capacity, to promoting positive social change and challenging cultural norms that underpin child labor.


The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when ZERO children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For additional information, please contact:

Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, smasur@unicefusa.org

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