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Girl in Bangladesh sews in a room, wearing a head scarf to hide her face

Ending child labour

How World Vision is working to stop child labour and slavery

What is child labour?

All over the world, children are being exploited through child slavery and labour.

The child labour definition is “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” The worst forms of child labour include illicit activities like child slavery, sexual exploitation, child trafficking and hazardous work that put children at risk of death, injury or disease.

World Vision centres on protecting children from child labour: teaching children to know their rights, helping them and their families into better livelihoods, providing them with vocational training or education, and working with parents and communities to ensure that children's futures are not stolen by labour exploitation.

Another important factor in child slavery and labour protection is advocacy - which is where your voice is particularly powerful. We lobby for national policies to be put in place so that children’s rights are prioritised; this includes the right to education and protection from economic exploitation.

How we're tackling child labour:

You can help a child for life and end child labour today.

It is estimated that young people who have to work full-time or part-time instead of going to school increase their likelihood of being poor in later life by as much as 30%. Support World Vision to tackle the root causes and keep children in school and out of labour.

Child labour facts

Child slavery and labour are not small problems. 160 million children worldwide are subjected to child slavery and labour, and nearly half of them are engaged in hazardous work. Crises brought about by climate change and Covid have made the problem worse. 

With your support, we work towards the elimination of child labour, to help families break this cycle of poverty. We advocate for children’s rights, support families financially and ensure that children stay in education - tackling the roots of the problem.

Protect children like Suldana today

Support World Vision’s work to help boys and girls in the world’s most dangerous places.

Together we can end child labour

FAQs and facts about child labour

  • During conflicts or natural disasters, families may have to flee from their homes and, in extreme circumstances, resort to using their children as a way of earning money to survive. If families are extremely poor or experience an unexpected loss of a breadwinner, children can be called upon to help support the family.

    When families are unable to break this cycle of poverty, girls and boys might be forced to not attend school or drop out of education completely. Work can be seen as a better use of their time - or the only way to help to support their families to provide food or pay off debts.

    Covid and increasing climate change-induced disasters have led more than eight million more children into child labour in the last four years.

  • Child labour is destructive and debilitating - it is estimated that children who have to work instead of going to school increase their likelihood of being poor in later life by as much as 30%.

    Children can also be forced to work in dangerous conditions, affecting both their physical and mental wellbeing. Certain groups of children can be more at risk of child labour and slavery, such as displaced and refugee children. Adolescent girls are often more at risk of sexual exploitation – such as those working in brothels or those recruited into pornography. Children with disabilities are also exploited into begging and other forms of street-based work.

    Such jobs include:

    Mining - With a constant risk of major injury or death, mining is extremely dangerous. Many view it as one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Each day children risk their lives without any other choice.

    Working in factories - Many factories rely on children's labour to keep costs down. Exposed to a factory environment with no health and safety regulations, children are forced to work in unhealthy atmospheres with toxic air, heavy machinery and hazardous chemicals.

    Illegal trading - Some victims of modern slavery are forced into illicit activities. Children are used to sell illegal goods on the streets, including drug-related products to gangs, exposing them to things they shouldn’t see or know about at such a young and crucial age.

    There are also cases where children have worked in agriculture or in domestic work. These long working hours interfere with their schooling.

    Whatever form of child labour, the young person will experience devastating effects – all for little to no money. 

  • Any time a child is engaged in child labour, it violates their rights: they are without a voice and their chance for a bright future slips away. However, in its worst forms, child labour can involve children being enslaved, exposed to dangerous circumstances and sometimes separated from their families.

    These can include:
    Child slavery: Child slavery happens when a child is exploited, owned or coerced into providing labour for another person’s gain. Children are kept against their will and unable to leave.

    Child trafficking: When children are manipulated or forced to leave their homes and are relocated or transported to a life of exploitation, forced to work or sold on, that’s child trafficking. Children in these circumstances are frequently subject to emotional and sexual abuse. Girls and boys are likely to suffer extreme or physical violence at a rate almost two times higher than adults in the hands of traffickers (UNODC 2022).

    Debt bondage: This refers to children being exchanged to help pay off outstanding debts. Families who live in extreme poverty may resort to this desperate action and their child is then forced to work to help clear the debt.

    Forced labour: This is when children are made to work against their wishes. Today, an estimated 3.3 million children are trapped in forced labour, a type of modern slavery, across the globe – including in the UK. More than half of children in forced labour are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. (International Labour Organization (ILO), Walk Free, and International Organization for Migration (IOM) 2022). Children recruited into armed groups are often forced to fight, work as porters, messengers or as wives to combatants.

    Illicit activities: These are illegal activities and crimes such as prostitution, producing, buying or selling drugs. Children who are engaged in drug trafficking are often subjected to physical and sexual violence and can be addicted to drugs.

  • Children are engaged in child labour around the world. There are even cases of child labour in the UK.

    When we break down the child labour statistics, we can see that Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of children working, begging, or marrying because the pandemic, and climate disasters have negatively impacted family incomes. Whilst there are more boys performing child labour, girls are often disproportionately disadvantaged because of gender norms that increase their likelihood of being pushed into domestic work, unpaid household chores or forced into child marriages.

    Some forms of child labour are more common in certain places.

    Mining is particularly common in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, where children work long hours in mineral mines, in extremely dangerous conditions.

    Child labour in factories is typically seen in countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia, where children are made to work in clothing and footwear factories.

    Other instances occur in the tobacco industry, where companies have been associated with using labour in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Malawi, the USA and Zimbabwe.

  • Not all children who work are being exploited by child labour.

    Only when children are of an appropriate age for the task, receive appropriate pay and work in safe environments, can they be considered performing “acceptable” work. These children can balance work with school and play so they can experience true fullness of life, and they develop the necessary skills to transition into adulthood.

    Legal regulations on what is called child labour can vary from country to country, but international standards are in place to protect children from the most dangerous types of child labour. Exploited children in the labour force are often deprived of these rights and opportunities, working in unfair circumstances, often forced to work in places with poor health and safety, that hinder their development rather than stimulate it. This exploitation is what we work to tackle.