Before stating the problem, it is important to know what child labour in general means. In fact there is no universally accepted definition of child labour, but generally speaking, child labour is work for children under the age of 18 that harms them or exploits them in a certain way, be it physically, mentally, morally, or by blocking access to education.
Over 200 million children between 5 to 17 years are engaged in child labour – which is one in six children in the world. Moreover, around 120 millions of children are engaged in hazardous situations or conditions, such as working in mines, with chemicals and pesticides in agriculture or with dangerous machinery. They are toiling as domestic servants in homes, labouring behind the walls of workshops, working in sugarcane, cocoa, coffee, tea plantations, etc.
Children, living in poorest households and in rural areas, are most likely to be engaged in child labour. The highest numbers of child labourers are in the Asian Pacific region, where there are 122 million working children. However, the highest proportion of child labourers is in Sub Saharan Africa, where 26% of the children or 49 million expressed in numbers are involved in work. Taking an overall view to the proportion of child labour around the world, it is possible to see that 61% of child labourers live in Asia, 32% in Africa, and 7% in Latin America, 1% in US, Canada, Europe and other wealthy nations. In Asia, 22% of the workforce are children. In Latin America the number amounts to 17%. The proportion of child labourers varies a lot among countries and even regions inside those countries.
It is true that most child labourers come from poor families but poverty is not the only reason for child work, nor is it as central as many people think. Recent studies, examining the role that poverty plays in child labour, have found that other factors, such as the parents’ low regard for the education of children, particularly girls, and failing education systems contribute equally to child labour. Too often poverty is used as an excuse for this situation. It is not true that child labour will never be eliminated until poverty is eradicated. Conversely, poverty will never be eradicated until child labourers are redirected to schools. Child labour perpetuates poverty. Some families have difficulties coping without the wages of their children but removing children from work may not present as much of a problem as initially perceived. Redirecting child labourers to school is better for families in the long run than letting them continue to work. Moreover, child labour hinders the full development of human capital. A less skilled workforce results in low productivity and income for countries. Many studies have recognized the historical link between the reduction of child labour, the increase in school attendance, and the economic growth of industrialized countries.
The ILO’s (International Labour Organisation), an International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), was created in 1992 with the overall goal of the progressive elimination of child labour, which was to be achieved through strengthening the capacity of countries to deal with the problem and promoting a worldwide movement to combat child labour. Positively, child labour has declined by 11% in the last four years, nevertheless much more needs to be done. The ILO and its social partners from member governments have committed themselves to eliminating the worst form of child labour by 2016.
The World Day against Child Labour will be celebrated on the 12th of June. This day provides an opportunity to gain further support of individual governments and that of the ILO social partners, civil society and others, including schools, youth and women’s groups as well as the media, in the campaign against child labour.