Millions of children across the globe are engaged in child labour.
Not all work performed by children is child labour. Child labour is defined by international standards as work that is hazardous, demands too many hours, or is performed by children who are too young. Often, it puts their well-being at risk, deprives them of time for healthy childhood play or denies them their right to the education.
In 2015, UN member states committed to ending child labour by 2025. However, as we will see, the current pace of progress is too slow to meet this ambitious target.
Around the world, there are 151.6 million children aged 5 to 17 in child labour.——
Slightly less than half of children in child labour —72.5 million of them— are performing hazardous work that places their health, safety or moral development at risk.——
The 16-year period starting in 2000 saw a drop in the number of children in child labour of 94 million. We are clearly moving in the right direction, but the challenge is still immense.Trends in child labour by age group
Estimates for boys involved in child labour are higher than those for girls. However, these estimates don’t include household chores, for which responsibility falls more on girls.Trends in child labour by sex
One in five children in Africa is involved in child labour, making it the region where the risk of child labour is greatest, followed by Asia and the Pacific.—
Child labour isn’t limited to low-income countries. Over half of affected children in fact live in lower-middle and upper-middle income countries.—
Children in countries affected by conflict and disasters are more likely to be in child labour. These fragile situations often involve income shocks, a breakdown in support networks, displacement and disruptions in basic services, all of which can heighten the risk of child labour.——
Seven in ten children in child labour are working in agriculture. This work relates mainly to subsistence and commercial farming and herding livestock, and is often hazardous.——
Some children in child labour are working grueling weeks of more than 43 hours.——
Nearly a third of children in child labour are completely outside the education system. Those who are able to attend school tend to perform more poorly than their non-working peers. The time and energy they spend working interferes with their ability to benefit fully from classroom hours and to study outside the classroom.——
This information is based directly on the report Global estimates of child labour: Results and trends, 2012-2016 that was developed by the International Labour Organization.
Determining which types of employment qualify as child labour
Determining which types of employment qualify as child labour: Not all work performed by children is detrimental to their well-being and future prospects. Here’s how child labour is defined for the purposes of these estimates.
Global child labour measurment framework
Defining hazardous work
Children in hazardous work are children engaged in any activity or occupation that, by its nature or the circumstances in which is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety and morals of children. In general, hazardous work may include: night work, long hours of work, exposure to physical, psychological or sexual abuse; work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces; work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or work which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads; and work in an unhealthy environment which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations that can damage their health.
In total data sets from 105 countries were used. Twenty- four of the data sets were derived from National Child Labour Surveys implemented by the International Labour Organization in collaboration with national bureaus of statistics and with additional financial support from the United States Department of Labor; Seventeen were derived from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys implemented with the assistance of the UNICEF; Another seventeen data sets were derived from Demographic and Health Surveys, mostly done with funding from the USAID; seventeen were derived from national Labour Force Surveys or other national household surveys and; thirty were derived from Labour Force Surveys conducted in accordance with Eurostat guidelines. Altogether, the data sets cover all the world’s regions and more than 1,100 million children, corresponding to about 70 percent of the global population of children aged 5 to 17.
Harmonizing data from different sources
Data sets from the various sources were organized into a common set of templates. Age groups were standardized and missing values were imputed.
Extrapolating national data to regions
For a minority of the countries in each region, no data was available. Data from the available countries was treated as a probability sample from which to make regional estimates. Each country was weighted according to its relative share of the total number of children in the region.
Ninety-five percent of the time, the sampling method that was used would capture the true population parameter within the following intervals:
|Estimate ('000)||95% confidence interval ('000)|
|Children in employment||218'018||+/- 6'884|
|Children in child labour||151'622||+/- 5'570|
|Children in hazardous work||72'525||+/- 3'618|
|Children in unpaid household services||801'030||+/- 18'034|
|Children combining employment and unpaid household services||173'513||+/- 5'812|
This information is based directly on the report Methodology of the global estimates of child labour that was developed by the International Labour Organization.
Slavery isn’t merely a historical relic. In 2016, around 40.3 million men, women and children from every part of the globe were victims of modern slavery.
Although it is not defined in law, “modern slavery” is used here as an umbrella term covering the various forms of coercion prohibited in international instruments on human rights and labour standards (e.g. slavery, institutions and practices similar to slavery, forced labour, trafficking in persons and forced marriage).
Essentially, what all of these situations have in common is that that a person is being exploited or forced to marry and cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception and/or abuse of power. In order to make modern slavery measurable, these global estimates covers two key forms: forced labour and forced marriage.
On any given day in 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people were victims of modern slavery. Of these people, 24.9 million were in forced labour and 15.4 million were in forced marriage.—
There are more females (71%) than males (29%) in modern slavery.——
One in four victims of modern slavery are children.——
At any given time, some 16 million people around the world are victims of forced labour exploitation in the private sector (not including sexual exploitation). On average, they are held 20.5 months before escaping or being freed.——
Forced Sexual Exploitation
At any given time in 2016, 4.8 million people are victims of forced sexual exploitation. On average, they are held for 23.4 months in their situation before escaping or being freed. The vast majority are women and girls. Children represent more than 20% of the victims.——
At any given time in 2016, 4.1 million people around the world are victims of forced labour imposed by state authorities. Some work for years, while many work for only a few weeks.—
At any given time in 2016, there are 15.4 million people living in a forced marriage. While men and boys are among the victims, most are women and girls (84%). An estimated 37% of victims living in a forced marriage were children at the time of the marriage. Amongst the child victims, 44% were forced to marry before the age of 15. The youngest victim in the sample was 9 when she was forced to marry.——
The rate of modern slavery is highest in Africa, with 7.6 victims for every 1,000 people in the region.—
Where victims of forced labour have migrated, most are exploited in a country in the same income-based regional grouping as their home country. But a larger proportion of victims from lower-middle-income regions are exploited in higher-income regions.Forced labour exploitation by income level
This information is based directly on the report Global estimates of modern slavery: Forced labour and forced marriage that was developed by the International Labour Organization and Walk Free Foundation in partnership with the International Organization for Migration.
Defining modern slavery
In the context of this report, modern slavery covers a set of more specific legal concepts including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery, slavery-like practices and human trafficking. Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used an umbrella term that focuses attention on commonalities across these legal concepts. Essentially, it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception and/or abuse of power. In order to make this set of complex legal concepts measurable, the Global Estimate focuses upon two key forms of modern slavery: forced labour (as per the International Labour Organization (ILO) Forced Labour Convention, 1930, No.29), and forced marriage (that is, marriage without consent).
Defining and measuring forced labour exploitation
Forced labour, as set out in the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), refers to “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”
It was measured with national surveys that involved face-to-face interviews with a total of over 71,000 respondents aged 15 or older. Fifty-four national surveys were conducted in 48 countries using a common set of questions.
To estimate the share of children in forced labour exploitation, data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s database of reported cases of human trafficking since 2012 was consulted. It was used to construct a ratio of children to adults in forced labour, which was then applied to the survey data to identify the overall number of affected children.
Defining and measuring forced sexual exploitation
Forced sexual exploitation is defined as forced labour exploitation in which sexual services are involved. The national surveys asked about sexual exploitation, but under-reporting was likely given the sensitive nature of the question and the fact that people were surveyed within their homes. Therefore, the International Organization for Migration’s database on reported cases of human trafficking was again consulted. The IOM data were used to estimate the odds ratio of forced sexual exploitation to forced labour of adults. This ratio was then used to estimate forced sexual exploitation on the basis of what the national surveys found for forced labour.
All children in any type of commercial sexual activity (prostitution, massage, pornography) are considered victims of forced sexual exploitation. But the detection of children victimized in commercial sex is particularly difficult, both in terms of detection by law enforcement or protection agents and in terms of survey data collection. The estimate is therefore likely to be a severe underestimation of the reality.
Defining and measuring state-imposed forced labour
State-imposed forced labour was defined as any labour falling into the following six categories:
- Abuse of military conscription, when conscripts are forced to work for tasks which are not of purely military character.
- Obligation to perform work beyond normal civic obligations.
- Abuse of the obligation to participate in minor communal services, when these services are not in the direct interest of the community and have not benefitted from prior consultation of the members of the said community.
Prison labour if it is:
- of prisoners in remand or in administrative detention.
- exacted for the benefit of private individuals, companies or associations outside the exceptions allowed by the ILO supervisory bodies in the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105).
- exacted from persons under certain circumstances, such as punishment for expressing political views or participation in strikes.
- Compulsory labour for the purpose of economic development.
- Forced military recruitment of children by governments or militia groups.
The forced recruitment of children by armed groups was excluded from the estimate due to a lack of reliable data. For the remaining forms of state-imposed forced labour, estimates were built on the basis of available reliable sources.
These sources included ILO published and unpublished reports, comments of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR), sources from other UN agencies, and reports from specialized NGOs, academia and the media.
Defining and measuring forced marriage
Forced marriage refers to situations where persons, regardless of their age, have been forced to marry, without their consent. Forced marriage is prohibited through the prohibitions on slavery and slavery-like practices, including servile marriage (defined in the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery, 1956). A forced marriage might be achieved through physical, emotional or financial duress, deception by family members, the spouse or others, or the use of force or threats or severe pressure.
The incidence of forced marriage was estimated based on the data from the national household surveys. Respondents were asked if they had ever been forced to marry and, later in the survey, they were also asked if they had consented to the marriage. The additional consent question was included to remove some confusion between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage.
It is important to note that the measurement of forced marriage is at an early stage, and both the scope and measures are likely to be refined further. As a result, the current estimate should be considered very conservative.
Defining the forced labour of children
The forced labour of children under 18 is defined as work performed by a child under coercion applied by a third party (other than his or her parents) either to the child or to the child’s parents, or worked performed by a child as a direct consequence of their parent or parents being engaged in forced labour. The coercion may take place during the child’s recruitment, to force the child or his or her parents to accept the job. It may also occur once the child is working, to force him or her to do tasks that were not part of what was agreed at the time of recruitment, or to prevent him or her from leaving the work.
Limitations on regional data
There were only two national surveys in Arab States, and none in the Gulf States. The regional estimate for Arab States is therefore mainly built from respondents who were interviewed in their country of residence and who reported about their forced labour situation while working abroad. It is likely that this led to underestimating the extent of modern slavery in this region. The exploitation of women and girls as domestic servants, and of men and boys in the construction industry in the Gulf States has been well-documented by numerous international organizations. The difficulty in capturing the experiences of these migrant workers is one of access, which is nearly impossible while they are working.
Similarly, it is typically not possible to survey in countries that are experiencing profound conflict, such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, South Sudan and highly affected parts of Nigeria. Yet, it is known that conflict is a significant risk factor: the breakdown of the rule of law and the loss of social supports increase the risk of both forced labour and forced marriage. The modern slavery estimates in regions in which conflict countries are situated will understate the problem.
The estimates of forced sexual exploitation and forced labour of children were built on models of profiles of IOM database of registered victims. Overall the data provides solid data but the regional distribution of its victims reflects where IOM has programming to provide direct assistance to victims of trafficking. This leads to an overrepresentation in Europe and underrepresentation in Latin America where IOM has fewer direct assistance activities for victims of trafficking.
Limitations on capturing migration of victims of forced labour
Unfortunately, internal migration was not captured through the household surveys. As a result, only international migration is reflected in the estimates of migration flow of victims of forced labour.
This information is based directly on the report Methodology of the global estimates of modern slavery: Forced labour and forced marriage that was developed by the International Labour Organization and Walk Free Foundation in partnership with the International Organization for Migration.