Child Labor: Down by a Third Since 2000

The number of child laborers worldwide has dropped significantly according to a new report released this week by the International Labor Organization (ILO), falling from 246 million in 2000 to 168 million in 2012. Child labor among girls is falling most quickly — by 40% compared to 25% for boys — and the greatest progress was made between 2008 and 2012. That's a good sign; it shows that child labor can be reduced even during times of financial crisis.
A child laborer in Afghanistan © UNICEF/NYHQ2007-1166/Shehzad Noorani
Mohammed, 10, cleans automobile parts with kerosene at an auto repair shop in the Pia Minara neighborhood of Herat, Afghanistan. He works six days a week as a mechanic's helper, cleaning the shop, fetching water and handling gasoline, diesel and kerosene. Mohammed does not have running water at home and uses most of the money he earns to wash in a hamam, or public bath, two or three times a week.

The ILO report also contains stark warnings. 168 million child laborers means that more than 10% of the world's children aged 5-17 are working. Even worse, half of these children — some 85 million — are engaged in the most hazardous types of labor, working with chemicals and pesticides, with dangerous machinery, or in situations that make them vulnerable to exploitation. Asia and the Pacific have the largest numbers of child workers according to the report, almost 78% of the world's total. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest incidence; in that region, over 1 out of ever 5 children work, some 59 million in all. Globally, the agriculture sector, with almost 100 million child workers, is the largest employer of children. Another 54 million children work in services, and 12 million work in industry. To UNICEF, child labor is a critical issue. It reinforces a cycle of poverty by keeping children out of school.  “We are not so naïve as to say that children shouldn’t work,” says UNICEF Chief of Child Protection Susan Bissell. “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, they must be taken out of such situations.” How UNICEF is Helping Child Workers: UNICEF is active in every sector and every region to protect child workers and reduce child labor, helping to get child sugar cane workers in Bolivia out of the field, send child metal workers in India back into school and rescue trafficked children in Nigeria from household servitude. On June 12, World Day Against Child Labor, UNICEF focused attention on the plight of child domestic workers. These children, usually girls, are hidden behind the doors of other people's homes.  They are dependent on their employers for survival and vulnerable to violence and sexual abuse. UNICEF also fights relentlessly on behalf of the 5.5. million children worldwide who are victims of forced labor and child trafficking, aiming to reduce factors that make children susceptible to trafficking in the first place. And UNICEF is working to protect desperate Syrian child refugees who are being driven by destitution to find work. The progress on child labor is worth celebrating, but the work is far from done. Please support UNICEF's child protection efforts.