What is child labour?

Child labour involves work that deprives children of their childhood. Often exposing them to harmful hazardous conditions, child labour can have detrimental effects on a child’s mental and physical development, limit their prospects and force them to grow up far too early.

While the minimum legal age to work is 16 years old, in some developing countries it’s just 14. But, we know that children as little as 5 are being exploited and made to work.  


The Worst Forms of Child Labour

The worst forms of child labour can involve children being enslaved, separated from their families and exposed to dangerous circumstances. It can take many different forms: 

Child slavery: Today, an estimated 5 million children are trapped in modern slavery across the globe – including in the UK. 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 sexual and emotional abuse. 

Debt bondage: Refers to children being exchanged to help pay off outstanding debts. Families who live in extreme poverty, may resort to desperate actions. Their child is then forced to work to help clear the debt. 


152 million children
across the globe are victims of child labour. That’s almost one in every ten children worldwide.

88 million are boys
and 64 million are girls.

48% of them
are aged 5 to 11 years old

73 million children
are exposed to hazardous work – risking injury and death.

Exposed to hazardous environments

Child labour forces children to work in hazardous conditions, affecting both their physical and mental wellbeing. 


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. 

This is particularly common in parts of Africa, Asia and South America, where children work long hours in gold mines, without clean water.


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. 

This is typically seen in countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia, where children are made to work in clothing factories, producing garments. 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. 

Illegal trading

Using children to sell illegal goods on the streets – including drug-related products to gangs – exposes them to things they shouldn’t see or know about at such a young and crucial age.  


The Causes of 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. 

When families are unable to break this cycle of poverty, girls and boys might not experience an education at all, or they may be forced to drop out. Work is seen as a better use of their time, helping to support their families or pay off debts. Child labour simply violates children’s rights, they are without a voice and their chance for a bright future slips away.

The Key to Breaking Free?

For many families suffering in poverty, education is the key to breaking free from child labour. It helps to tackle the root of the problem. Making sure all children attend and stay in school, means they will gain an education and the ability to build skills for brighter prospects.

Help us put an end to child labour. By sponsoring a child, you are not only helping your sponsored child, but enabling the community they live in to break free from the cycle of poverty.