Child labour is, generally speaking, work by children that harms them or exploits them in some way (physically, mentally, morally, or by blocking their access to education).
BUT: There is no universally accepted definition of child labour. Varying definitions of the term are used by international organisations, non-governmental organisations, trade unions and other interest groups. Writers and speakers don’t always specify what definition they are using, and that often leads to confusion.
Not all work is bad for children. Some social scientists point out that some kinds of work may be completely unobjectionable — except if the work is exploiting the child. For instance, a child who delivers newspapers before school might actually benefit from learning how to work, gaining responsibility, and a bit of money. But what if the child is not paid? Then he or she is being exploited. As Unicef’s 1997 State of the World’s Children Report puts it, "Children’s work needs to be seen as happening along a continuum, with destructive or exploitative work at one end and beneficial work - promoting or enhancing children’s development without interfering with their schooling, recreation and rest - at the other. And between these two poles are vast areas of work that need not negatively affect a child’s development." Other social scientists have slightly different ways of drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable work.
International conventions also define "child labour" as activities such as soldiering and prostitution. Not everyone agrees with this definition. Some child workers themselves think that illegal work (such as prostitution) should not be considered in the definition of "child labour." The reason: These child workers would like to be respected for their legal work, because they feel they have no other choice but to work.
To avoid confusion, when writing or speaking about "child labour," it is best to explain exactly what you mean by child labour — or, if someone else is speaking, ask for a definition. This website uses the first definition cited in this section: "Child labour" is work for children under age 18 that in some way harms or exploits them (physically, mentally, morally, or by blocking access to education).
Who Is A "Child"?
International conventions define children as aged 18 and under. Individual governments may define "child" according to different ages or other criteria. "Child" and "childhood" are also defined differently by different cultures. A "child" is not necessarily delineated by a fixed age. Social scientists point out that children’s abilities and maturities vary so much that defining a child’s maturity by calendar age can be misleading.
Who Are Child Labourers and How Many Are There?
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO)
, "215 million children under 18 work, many fulltime. In Sub Saharan African 1 in 4 children aged 5-17 work, compared to 1 in 8 in Asia Pacific and 1 in 10 in Latin America." Moreover, some 8.4 million children were engaged in so-called 'unconditional' worst forms of child labour, which include forced and bonded labour, the use of children in armed conflict, trafficking in children and commercial sexual exploitation. Unicef’s State of the World’s Children Report says that although the exact number is not known, it is surely in the hundreds of millions. More information about who child labourers are, where they live, and new statistics on the total number can be found here
According to figures from the University of Iowa, 53 percent of child labourers live in Asia and the Pacific, 30 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, and seven percent in Latin America.
What Do Child Labourers Do?
According to the ILO, 58.6 percent
of child labourers work in agriculture. Other industries that frequently rely on child labour include maufacturing, mining, quarrying, construction, domestic service and general service such as in retail, restaurants and hotels.
It is generally though that boys are more often become involved in child labour than girls however, exact figures on this can be difficult to estimate, as UNICEF
states: "Although aggregate numbers suggest that more boys than girls are involved in child labour, many of the types of work girls are involved in are invisible. It is estimated that roughly 90 per cent of children involved in domestic labour are girls."
What Are Some Myths and Misunderstandings About Child Labour?
In 1997, UNICEF listed four "myths" surrounding child labour which included that child labour is only a problem in developing countries; child labour will disappear when poverty disappears; most child labourers work in sweatshops; and that boycotts and pressuring governemnts is the only way to stop child labour (you can read about these myths here).
World Vision recently released a report on the myths about child labour, outlining how child labour is actually a hindrance to economic growth and attempting to breakdown some of the (mainly western) preconceptions that anyone involved in chile labour "chooses" to be there.
What Causes Child Labour Today?
Poverty is widely considered the top reason that children work at jobs thatare exploitative and inappropriate for their ages. But there are other reasons as well -- not necessarily in this order:
- family expectations and traditions
- abuse of the child
- lack of good schools and day care
- lack of other services, such as health care
- public opinion that downplays the risk of early work for children
- uncaring attitudes of employers
- limited choices for women
"The parents of child labourers are often unemployed or underemployed, desperate for secure employment and income. Yet it is their children - more powerless and paid less - who are offered the jobs." In other words, says UNICEF in their 1997 "Roots of child labour" report, children are employed because they are easier to exploit.
Other factors that contibute to instances of child labour include: limited access to compulsory, free education; irregular monitoring and weak enforcement of relevant laws; local laws that include a lot of exemptions; globalisation and an emphasis on low labour costs; and inability to uphold workers' and child rights.
What Are Some Solutions to The Problem of Child Labour?
Many children in hazardous and dangerous jobs are in danger of injury or even death. Between 2000 and the year 2020, the vast majority of new workers, citizens and new consumers — whose skills and needs will build the world’s economy and society — will come from developing countries. Over that 20-year period, some 730 million people will join the world’s workforce — more than all the people employed in the most developed nations in 2000. More than 90 percent of these new workers will be from developing nations, according to research by Population Action International.
In order to fairly and adequately meet the needs of this growing workforce and not rely on child labour, a few things must be prioritised, namely:
- Increased family incomes
- Education — that helps children learn skills that will help them earn a living
- Social services — that help children and families survive crises, such as disease, or loss of home and shelter
- Family control of fertility — so that families are not burdened by children
The ILO’s International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) has explored many programs to help child labourers. See the IPEC documents on the ILO site. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for children to participate in important decisions that will affect their lives.
Some educators and social scientists believe that one of the most important ways to help child workers is to ask their opinions, and involve them in constructing "solutions" to their own problems. Strong advocates of this approach are: Boyden, Myers and Ling; Concerned for Working Children in Karnataka, India; many children’s "unions" and "movements," and the Save the Children family of non-governmental organisations.