The latest global estimates indicate that the number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years. 63 million girls and 97 million boys were in child labour globally at the beginning of 2020, accounting for almost 1 in 10 of all children worldwide.
This report warns that global progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years. The number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work – defined as work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals – has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016. In sub-Saharan Africa, population growth, extreme poverty, and inadequate social protection measures have led to an additional 16.6 million children in child labour over the past four years.
Additional economic shocks and school closures caused by COVID-19 mean that children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while many more may be forced into the worst forms of child labour due to job and income losses among vulnerable families. The report warns that globally 9 million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic.
Children in child labour are at risk of physical and mental harm. Child labour compromises children’s education, restricting their rights and limiting their future opportunities, and leads to vicious inter-generational cycles of poverty and child labour.
Key results from the 2020 global estimates include:
Involvement in child labour is higher for boys than girls at all ages. Among all boys, 11.2 per cent are in child labour compared to 7.8 per cent of all girls. In absolute numbers, boys in child labour outnumber girls by 34 million. When the definition of child labour expands to include household chores for 21 hours or more each week, the gender gap in prevalence among boys and girls aged 5 to 14 is reduced by almost half.
Child labour is much more common in rural areas. There are 122.7 million rural children in child labour compared to 37.3 million urban children. The prevalence of child labour in rural areas (13.9 per cent) is close to three times higher than in urban areas (4.7 per cent).
Most child labour – for boys and girls alike – continues to occur in agriculture. More than 70 per cent of all children in child labour, 112 million children in total, are in agriculture.
The largest share of child labour takes place within families. 72 per cent of all child labour and 83 per cent of child labour among children aged 5 to 11 occurs within families, primarily on family farms or in family microenterprises.
Child labour is frequently associated with children being out of school. A large share of younger children in child labour are excluded from school despite falling within the age range for compulsory education. More than a quarter of children aged 5 to 11 and over a third of children aged 12 to 14 who are in child labour are out of school.