Addressing Child Labour: Lessons Learned from ChildFund Interventions (June 2021)


2021 is designated as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, as unanimously adopted in a UN General Assembly resolution in 2019 and launched by the International Labour Organization and the Alliance 8.71. Currently, there is strong momentum to accelerate global efforts in the fight against child labour; exchange ideas on good practices and learnings; and boost cooperation and multi-stakeholders’ actions and commitment.

This paper presents a summary of exchanges among ChildFund Alliance members during a child labour webinar conducted in January 2021. Representatives from four program regions/ countries—Africa, Bangladesh, Philippines and Paraguay—presented their work on child labour, including how they adapted their programming as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This snyopsis of lessons learned demonstrates the importance of a multi-layered, holistic approach when addressing this harmful work that deprives children of their childhood.

What is Child Labour? As defined by the ILO, child labour is work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to their physical and psychological development.

Worst forms of child labour include forced labour, recruitment into armed groups, trafficking for exploitation, sexual exploitation, illicit work or hazardous work. Hazardous labour, its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health and safety or morals of children.

While child labour has decreased over the past 15 years, a total of 152 million children—64 million girls and 88 million boys—are still engaged in child labour globally (see graph). Nearly half, or 73 million children are involved in hazardous work, and among them, an increasing number are younger children.

The COVID-19 crisis is likely to drastically reverse progress toward reducing child labour. In fact, there is already evidence COVID-19 is causing an increase in child labour, especially the worst forms, including in countries where ChildFund has a presence.

Child labour is a form of violence and exploitation which, depending on scale and context, significantly interferes with child rights: their right to protection, right to health, right to education and right to leisure. It is different from some forms of economic employment which, if undertaken in proper conditions and without prejudice to other child rights, can support adolescents in gaining skills and confidence, and contribute to wider projects within the community and society.

Risks depend on the nature and conditions of the work, the number of hours worked, the developmental stage of children, and the level of interference with their ability to exercise other rights, such as the right to education. Different types of work have implications for children’s safety, including isolation and lack of safe relationships with peers or trusted adults.

Beyond the physical, psychological and sexual violence that child labour can introduce to children’s lives, children also can be exposed to work-injuries or impairments, illnesses, and even death. Worldwide, the ILO estimates some 22,000 children are killed at work every year, while the numbers of those injured or made ill because of their work are not known. Because child labour is often undertaken in an informal way and in an informal sector, there often is a lack of visibility regarding the harms inflicted. This increases the vulnerability of children who work without access to minimum safety conditions, guaranteed working hours, or minimum wages.