Global Policy Forum

One in Twelve of the World's Children Are Forced into Child Labor

February 18, 2005


A new report launched today by UNICEF UK exposes the global exploitation of children as workers, highlighting how one in twelve of the world's children (180 million young people below 18) are involved in the worst forms of child labour – hazardous work, slavery, forced labour, in armed forces, commercial sexual exploitation and illicit activities. 97% of these are in developing countries.

The report shows that children are driven into the world of work and exploitation by poverty and inadequate education, exacerbated by the effects of HIV/AIDS. They become vulnerable to such exploitation when the environment they live in - at a family, community and state level - has failed to protect them.

To eradicate the worst forms of child exploitation, UNICEF is calling for immediate action to tackle the issue of child poverty. UNICEF UK's Executive Director David Bull explained, "One way to put an end to the exploitation of children highlighted in this report is by taking action to make poverty history and ensuring a commitment to more and better international aid. Over 30 years ago the richest countries committed themselves to giving 0.7% of GNI to overseas aid yet today only five countries - Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden - are fulfilling their promise. One billion children around the world are still living in poverty and this is an unacceptable injustice."

"We welcome the fact that the UK has shown significant leadership by committing to meet the 0.7% target by 2013, but we are now calling for a firm pledge to reach this target before 2013 because it will really make a difference to children's lives. By 2013, still only half of Africa's children will complete primary school and one in six will die before their fifth birthday. With every month that passes without faster increases in aid, we drift further and further from achieving the Millennium Development Goals. 2005 holds unprecedented opportunities for the UK government to use the G8 Summit and its presidency of the EU to drive forward the fight against poverty, debt, and trade injustices and be an influential player on the world stage. It is a great opportunity to transform children's lives."

Poverty has a direct impact on child labour. In the 43 countries of the world with an annual income of $500 or less per person, the percentage of children in child labour is usually between 30% and 60%, whilst in countries where income is between $500 and $1000 the percentage of child labourers drops to between 10% and 30%. They form a vicious circle, poverty giving rise to labour and labour perpetuating poverty.

For the children living with this poverty day to day, education is far from a reality. Globally, an estimated 114 million children of primary school age are not enrolled in school, depriving one in five children of an education. They become exposed to exploitation and abuse and miss out on developing the knowledge and employable skills that could lift them and their own children out of the poverty cycle.

The statistics in the report note that: 352 million children aged five to 17 are engaged in some type of work; One in twelve of the world's children work in the worst forms of child labour; 211million work in family homes or farms in agricultural and domestic labour and in Africa alone, nearly half the children between five and 14 are working.

UNICEF works with governments and NGO partners around the globe to build a "protective environment" for children which safeguards them from abuse, including key elements that prevent exploitative child labour. For example, working to: reduce poverty; ensuring that education is available, free, compulsory, relevant and attractive; changing attitudes so that families and communities know about children's rights and understand the importance of education; rehabilitating children who have been exploited and providing opportunity; working to put laws in place that prohibit forced and bonded labour and ensuring employers who use children in bonded and forced labour are prosecuted.

All over the world, children are exploited anywhere that loopholes or gaps exist in the structures that should protect them. Even in the UK, children's rights are still not being taken seriously enough. Whilst accepting some work is beneficial to young people, the report shows how the issue of working children is still largely being ignored in this country and children may be exposed to levels of risk which are not acceptable.

In particular, the report recognises that there are also massive gaps in the protective environment for children that have been trafficked into the UK from abroad and are involved in exploitative labour on our shores. To prevent this, UNICEF is calling for more and better aid to tackle the root cause of trafficking – poverty in the source countries. UNICEF UK is also calling on the UK government to develop a national strategy to address child trafficking and to appoint a single agency to coordinate all counter trafficking efforts. There remain critical gaps in the identification, referral, care and protection of children trafficked into the UK.

David Bull concluded "The report makes it clear that a huge amount still remains to be done to protect children's rights all over the globe and to prevent their exploitation. We simply cannot wait for children to grow up before we act. We need to build a protective environment for all children that will prevent exploitation, care for the victims and advocate children's rights with the family, community and states. By taking action this year to make poverty history we can make great leaps forward towards ending child exploitation.



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