The number of child laborers has declined by one-third globally, from 246 million in 2000 to 168 million in 2012, according to an International Labor Organization (ILO) report released Monday. Yet the report also shows that despite the reduction, the worst forms of child labor will not be eliminated by 2016, a goal sought by the ILO and its international allies.
Marking Progress Against Child Labor, published in advance of the Global Conference on Child Labor in Brazil next month, shows child labor among girls fell by 40% since 2000, compared with a 25% decrease for boys. Other findings:
- The largest absolute number of child laborers is in the Asia-Pacific region (nearly 78 million), but the percentage of child laborers per population is highest in countries in sub-Saharan Africa, at more than 21%.
- The number of children in hazardous work declined by 30 million, from 115 million to 85 million, between 2000 and 2012. Hazardous work by children is often treated as a proxy for the worst forms of child labor and include any activity or occupation that leads to adverse effects on the child’s safety, health and moral development.
- Agriculture remains by far the largest sector with child laborers (98 million children, or 59%). But there also are large numbers of child laborers in services (54 million) and industry (12 million), primarily in the informal economy.
The 168 million child laborers represent 11% of the world’s child population. Human Rights Watch Advocacy Director Jo Becker put the new data in perspective: “While the progress is encouraging, the number of children still engaged in child labor is staggering.”
The report attributes the overall decrease in child labor, which occurred during the global recession, in part to “policy choices and accompanying investments that have been made in education and social protection.”
The ILO report warns against complacency in the face of such progress, recommending continued efforts in passing legislation and enforcement mechanisms covering minimum age and accessible and relevant education and skills development, social protection floors and expanded decent work opportunities for youth above the minimum age for admission to employment.
In seeking to eliminate child labor around the world, the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center frequently partners with unions, which play a key role in eliminating child labor. The economic benefits of trade unions in the workplace often enable adult workers to support their families without sending their children to work. Further, a union presence generally prevents employers from exploiting children. Unions also can improve livelihoods through collective bargaining agreements.
You can join a virtual march against child labor in conjunction with the Oct. 8–10 global conference in Brazil via a free app on Facebook. The application enables users to learn more about child labor and “walk” together toward a free world from child labor.