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Dirty hands of a young Bangladeshi boy working 12 hours every day
1 June 2023

“I will starve if I don’t work”

Sajal is one of 79 million children engaged in hazardous work

Monday 12 June is World Day Against Child Labour, an opportunity to highlight the reality of life for millions of children who are engaged in child labour. 

Did you know that child labour is on the increase? A shocking 1 in 10 children worldwide are engaged in different forms of labour, and in some lower income countries, that figure rises to just above 1 in 4 

The latest figures (2020) show that there are currently 160 million children aged 5-17 engaged in child labour – an increase of 8.4 million since 2016. There are 63 million girls and 97 million boys who are missing out on a good education as well as a carefree childhood. In addition to this, the Covid pandemic has put a further nine million children at risk.  

Nearly half of these are estimated to be involved in hazardous work such as operating dangerous machinery. Children like Sajal. 

“I will starve if I don’t work” 

“The work I do at the workshop is very painful,” says Sajal. “I often get cuts and bruises on my hands and I have to lift very heavy machinery.”  

14-year-old Sajal once dreamed of becoming a doctor, but this dream no longer seems within reach.  

Sajal lives in a remote village in northern Bangladesh with his parents and younger sister. His father works as a day labourer while his mother looks after the house.  

Last year, Sajal’s family began struggling financially and couldn’t afford to send him to school. Then things got even worse and Sajal needed to get a job. He now works 12 hours a day at a motorcycle repair shop, making the equivalent of £11 a month.  

“I don’t want to work here,” Sajal says, “but I will starve if I don’t work. The kids I used to go to school with now bully me sometimes. They tell me that I don’t belong with them anymore now that I have to work while they get to go to school.” 

14-year-old Bangladeshi boy working to repair a motorbike
Sajal, 14, working at a motorcycle repair shop

Sajal is one of the many millions of children who, under the International Labour Organization’s definition of child labour, is doing work that deprives him of his childhood, potential and dignity, and is “harmful to his physical and mental development”.  

A 2018 study found that child labour is associated with numerous health problems including poor growth, malnutrition, an increase in rates of infectious disease, behavioural and emotional disorders, and reduced confidence to overcome life’s challenges. Child labour also places children, particularly girls, at increased risk of physical and sexual abuse. 

Partnering in the fight against child exploitation 

Children are at the heart of World Vision’s work. We seek to help them to know their rights, so they’re empowered to have a voice in their communities. And we work with parents and communities to see that children are protected and that their futures are not stolen by labour exploitation.  

Four years ago, World Vision brought together a number of private sector, academic, media development and civil society organisations who began working together to combat the exploitation of children in the worst forms of child labour. 

Operating in three African countries, PACE (Partnership Against Child Exploitation) implemented a range of child-focused initiatives to generate evidence of how to effectively reduce child labour in the most dangerous places in the world, with a view to informing future policy and programming. 

The partnership, which concluded its work in September 2022, reached 24,200 people directly with a further 400,000 being positively impacted by its achievements in the countries of Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. 

Key achievements include 8,430 children being re-integrated into school and 1,679 youth trained on vocational skills.  

World Vision’s Aimyleen Gabriel, Senior Child Protection Adviser, says of the work completed by PACE: “Amidst insecure environments, Covid and other challenges that come with working in the hardest places, PACE recorded measurable successes in all its target communities. We saw a positive trend away from exploitative working conditions and more support to children’s education. There was also an increase in community awareness on the importance of protecting children from the harmful impact of child labour.    

“Evidence in Ethiopia for example showed a 40% increase in children working for their households and simultaneously a 17% decrease in those working for pay outside of the home. School enrolment increased, as did household resilience, and more child-reported improvements on health and life satisfaction. For example, 16% increase in school enrolment in Ethiopia, 7% decrease in households who had to reduce food intake, and 10% reduction in households who had to borrow money.”   

READ MORE: Protecting children from the worst forms of child labour 

Displaced Sudanese children, eastern border of Chad
Displaced Sudanese children, eastern border of Chad

Child labour and refugees 

Children are more at risk of being made to work when families are under financial pressure. They are especially vulnerable when they have been forced from home, becoming child refugees, due to conflict or natural disaster. The sudden loss of home, community and a steady income puts parents in difficult situations where they might feel they have no choice but to send their child out to work.

Twelve years since the Syria conflict began, millions of children and their families are still displaced, with another 850,000 children forced to leave their homes after February’s devastating earthquakes in Syria and Turkey. As families struggle to cope with loss and economic hardships, negative coping mechanisms such as child labour and early marriage increase.  

World Vision works with some of the most vulnerable children in fragile settings. In 2022, World Vision UK responded to 18 emergencies in 18 countries, reaching over one million people, of which 50% were children. Our aim is not just to enable them to survive, but to help them recover and build a future. A future where children can see their hopes and dreams become reality. 

Learn more