What is child labor and how can we end it?

By Daniil Filipenco

What is child labor and how can we end it?

From engagement in military activities to dangerous work in cocoa plantations, child labor is the malicious practice of forcing boys and girls under the age of 18 to work against their will and often in inappropriate conditions that impact their physical health and mental wellbeing.

While not all work done by children and teenagers below the minimal age should be classified as child labor because of their education situation, nevertheless activities that deprive children of their youth should be abolished. Approximately 160 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are employed in jobs that rob them of their youth, impede their education, or damage their normal intellectual, physiological, or social growth. Almost 50% of these children (about 80 million) are working in environments that can impact their health.

What is child labor?

Child labor is the illegal practice of exploiting boys and girls who, due to having to do hard work, cannot benefit from normal physical, mental, and/or social well-being. Children are extremely prone to accidents during this sensitive period of their development (from childhood to adolescence).

For the most part, child labor occurs in some of the world’s poorest nations. It is also typical in locations where there is instability or military conflicts.

Why does child labor occur?

The main reason is poverty, followed by a lack of schools. Data presented by the International Labor Organization (ILO) shows that 70% of children are employed in agriculture, while the rest put in long hours in factories, in domestic service, or as forced laborers like child soldiers.

However, not every job performed by children should be considered child labor. Teenagers who have reached the legal working age can participate in activities that do not harm their health, self-growth or impede their education, such as working at a grocery store or with non-profit organizations.

The worst types of child labor

According to the ILO, annually 22,000 children die at work. The organization lists the following as the worst types of child labor:

  • Slavery or other comparable crimes
  • Child trafficking
  • Being recruited for forced military service
  • Engagement in the adult industry and prostitution
  • Manufacturing, trafficking, and use of illegal substances

Brief facts about child labor

  • The 2021 data shows that 160 million children aged 5 to 17 formed part of the child labor force with 79 million working in dangerous conditions.
  • 112 million are employed in agriculture.
  • Nearly 80 million work in dangerous environments that can impact their physical and mental health.
  • 72 million boys and girls are exposed to child labor in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The labor participation rates of boys and girls child are equal throughout all regions but there are frequently seen differences between the sexes in the kinds of work done, with girls seen to be more engaged in unpaid domestic work.

How can child labor be brought to an end?

In its paper entitled “Ending Child Labour Through a Multisectoral Approach”, UNICEF listed a number of actions that could put an end to child labor. These include:

🔹 First focus on the worst types of child labor and the most vulnerable girls and boys

Eliminating the worst types of child labor can be achieved by helping children to escape dangerous environments as soon as possible, and implementing initiatives for their mental healthcare and reintegration. This calls for the involvement of strong child protection personnel who can provide adequate services to parents and children.

🔹 Ensure education is accessible to everyone

To increase the likelihood that children not only enroll and stay in school but also thrive, it is necessary to ensure access to early childhood education services, affordable childcare, and pre-primary education for everyone.

🔹 Invest in social protection

Social protection is crucial in combating poverty which is a major contributor to child labor. Integrated services, such as those in the child protection and schooling sectors, should be used in conjunction with cash transfers. It is important to introduce or expand child benefits/cash transfers with the goal of eliminating child poverty, increasing school attendance, and improving access to healthcare. It is also crucial to observe the effects of these investments.

🔹 Register every new birth

The key to ensuring children’s access to various social services and shielding them from being exploited and abused is birth registration. To track and register children, countries should consider employing laws that are free and ubiquitous. They should also invest in secure and cutting-edge technology to make birth registration easier and deliver efficient, accurate, and permanent records.

🔹 Improve child protection mechanisms

This includes investing in training social workers to provide optimum services for child protection prevention and response. Child protection services should identify cases of child labor and take appropriate action.

🔹 Avoid child labor by using responsible business methods

Governments must keep enforcing laws that seek justice for human rights violations in business activities and supply chains for all companies, no matter what their size. This mainly refers to high and middle-income nations that are home to numerous international companies.

If companies provide proper wages and decent working conditions, offer paid maternity and parental leave, and access to high-quality, low-cost childcare, they can help to deal with the root causes of child labor by fostering child development and parental support at the same time.

🔹 Bring child laborers to light

Each country must engage in gathering new and improved data on child labor and make sure every child is helped, including children from migrating families, those who live on the streets, and those hidden in the worst kinds of child labor (sexual exploitation, for instance).

The worst types of child labor should be more consistently captured in official statistics. To evaluate the success of policies and programs concerning child labor and the factors that affect the outcomes of such initiatives, mixed methods (MM) impact assessments are essential.

According to information shared on the World Economic Forum four more ways to end child labor can be added:

1️⃣ People should learn more about the issue and share information with others

It is important to take the time to educate ourselves so that we can fully understand the effects of child labor. As an illustration, approximately 65% of the world’s supply of cocoa (used to make chocolate) comes from West Africa, where 2 million children work in dangerous conditions.

After this information came to light, chocolate manufacturers started using Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems to tackle child labor. Being aware of this situation will enable people to choose to purchase chocolate from businesses that do not use child labor.

2️⃣ Support reporters who expose child labor

A common way that journalism can advocate for societal change to stop child labor is through editorials. We can help them by reading and sharing. Search engines and social networks can determine what topics are popular by evaluating the views and the amount of time people spend on each page.

3️⃣ Make morally sound investments

Investors who stop funding child laborers not only make it obvious that they oppose those who violate human rights, but they also erode the economic drivers for child labor. Entrepreneurs can examine a company’s employee safety history, average wage, and employee age. Additionally, investors can use public datasets to confirm that the businesses they are investing in adhere to their own ethical code.

4️⃣ Promote the use of labels to certify goods

The universal labelling project that confirms items are free from child labor can be supported by civil society groups. Customers would be able to recognize and buy ethical items with the help of such a label, supporting businesses that do not exploit children. Currently, a number of non-governmental groups run their own certification programs. One of these is the GoodWeave certification mark which was started by Kailash Satyarthi and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Final word

Child labor is not only a historical issue, it is also a current one. It continues to rob children of the joy of their early years, restricts their access to education, reduces their life expectancy, and keeps them in poverty. There are several actions that a number of international organizations recommend and promote to help to tackle child labor, including improving child protection mechanisms, using responsible business methods, and helping reporters who attempt to expose those who make use of child labor. If all the proposed actions were followed, this would offer a great opportunity to make the world a better place for children and teenagers.