For a lot of kids around the world, a job isn't a teenage rite of passage or the means to get some extra spending cash. It's grueling, full-time work done to help their families buy basic necessities like food and shelter. And in the poorest countries, kids as young as five toil in some of the toughest and most dangerous forms of labor out there, from mining to construction and mechanical work.
These jobs aren't only extremely hazardous; they keep millions of children out of school and stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty. UNICEF estimates that there are 158 million children working today. That's one in six children worldwide.
World Day Against Child Labor, an annual observance started by the International Labor Organization, helps bring focus to this issue — and the role of education as a key response. ILO believes countries can stop child labor by providing an education for all children, implementing education policies that address child labor and educating communities and promoting the need to end child labor.
Child labor — an exploitive practice parents often turn to for the family's survival
UNICEF understands that parents don't make their children work out of cruelty. It's out of necessity, to help families survive. That's why UNICEF has come up with some innovative programs that help children leave the workforce and enter school, but don't hurt a family's household income.
From Guatemala to India, UNICEF has launched initiatives that provide scholarships to child laborers and monthly stipends to families so that they don't lose the income generated by their children.
In India, the UNICEF-supported National Child Labor Project (NCLP) has helped thousands of children stop working and get back into school. Six-year-old Shabiyullah worked 10 hours a day as a helper in a roadside tea stall. On many occasions, boiling water spilled on his hands, badly burning his skin. For all his hard work, Shabiyullah earned a mere 10 rupees a day, equivalent to 20 American cents.
But thanks to UNICEF, he no longer sells tea and is in the classroom where he belongs. The program has also helped Shabiyullah make-up the school years he lost while working. He's completed five school grades in just three years. Now, the young boy is determined to finish his education.
Learn more about what UNICEF is doing to protect children and help them reach their full potential.
Top photo: Four-year-old Norma and her six-year-old cousin, Tonio, work 12 hours a day filling bags with charcoal to help their family in El Salvador. The two cousins are not enrolled in school and suffer from respiratory ailments. © UNICEF/ HQ97-0097/Donna DeCesare