Over 200 million workers (222,088,000 to be exact) worldwide are under the age of 18. Of these 200 million, 124.9 million are below the legal age to work and are considered child labour; 35 million are above the legal age but working under dangerous conditions. Despite these workers recording some of the highest rates of occupational injury and abuse of any age group, they tend to receive the least occupational health attention or protection.
Why? Younger workers are often seen as temporary or just helping out or simply not seen at all. Particularly in poor communities, they work behind the scenes (domestic chores, supporting adults in the family farm or enterprise) or working behind closed doors (maids, for example). In other words, they work in places where occupational health professionals are overstretched or in short supply.
What can we do? Hazardous child labour is something no one condones and virtually nothing can justify.
We can help policy-makers determine which kinds of work are hazardous and therefore illegal for a person under 18 to do.
We can convince a parent, although he sees no particular danger in it, that the damage is invisible and the work his child is doing can make her ill many years from now.
We can help the public understand that, yes, while everyone did this when they were young, the addition of toxic chemicals and fast-powered machinery mean that their children must not do it now. When carrying out a formal establishment risk assessment, we can teach employers about the special vulnerabilities of young people.
Youth are the workforce of the future. Let’s make sure they start off safe and healthy.
Child labour was decreasing over the last two decades but even before COVID19, the trend had stalled and has now started to go up again.
Child labour is found in all countries; more than half of all child labour is in middle income countries
Child labour is frequently associated with children being out of school.
Child labour is much more common in rural areas and agriculture is the sector with the highest number and percentage of child workers
Most child labour takes place within families (72%)
References for further information:
International Labour Office and United Nations Children’s Fund, Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward, ILO and UNICEF, New York, 2021. License: CC BY 4.0. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_797515.pdf
International Labour Office, A Health Approach to Child Labour: A Synthesis Report of Four Country Studies from the Brick Industry, ILO, Geneva, 2014. https://www.ilo.org/ipec/Informationresources/WCMS_IPEC_PUB_25300/lang–en/index.htm
International Labour Office, Looking for Answers: Researching Hazardous Work of Children, ILO, Geneva, 2014.