New ILO global report on child labour as effort to end child labour slow, ILO calls for “re-energized” global action

(ILO Geneva & Bangkok) Amid growing concerns over the impact of the economic downturn, the ILO warned in a new study that efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour are slowing down and called for a “re-energized” global campaign to end the practice.

Press release | 10 May 2010

(ILO Geneva & Bangkok) – Amid growing concerns over the impact of the economic downturn, the International Labour Office (ILO) warned in a new study that efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour are slowing down and called for a “re-energized” global campaign to end the practice.

In its quadrennial Global Report on child labour, the ILO said that the global number of child labourers had declined from 222 million to 215 million, or 3 per cent, over the period 2004 to 2008, representing a “slowing down of the global pace of reduction.” The report also expressed concern that the global economic crisis could “further brake” progress toward the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016.

“Progress is uneven: neither fast enough nor comprehensive enough to reach the goals that we have set,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “New and large-scale efforts are needed. The situation calls for a re-energized campaign against child labour. We must scale up action and move into a higher gear.”

Mr Somavia added: “The economic downturn cannot become an excuse for diminished ambition and inaction. Instead it offers the opportunity to implement the policy measures that work for people, for recovery and for sustainable development.”

The new ILO report, entitled Accelerating action against Child Labour, comes on the eve of a Global Child Labour Conference organized by the Government of the Netherlands in The Hague in cooperation with the ILO. Mr. Somavia said the impetus for action will be given a boost at the Global Conference, which is to consider a new "road map" for the elimination of child labour.

Trends since 2006

The new report’s findings are in contrast to the last quadrennial evaluation in 2006 which found greater cause for optimism. The updated picture is one of “uneven” progress toward the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016. The report warns that if current trends continue the 2016 target will be missed.

The good news is that the overall pattern of child labour reduction has been maintained: the more harmful the work and the more vulnerable the children involved, the faster the decline. However, a staggering 115 million are still exposed to hazardous work, a proxy often used for the worst forms of child labour.

The report breaks down data by age and gender. Progress was greatest among children aged 5-14, where the number of child labourers fell by 10 per cent. The number of children in hazardous work in this age range fell by 31 per cent. Child labour among girls decreased considerably (by 15 million or 15 per cent). However, it increased among boys (by 8 million or 7 per cent). What’s more, child labour among young people aged 15 to 17 increased by 20 per cent, from 52 million to 62 million.

The Global Report also includes data aggregated by region. It shows, for example, that Asia Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean continue to reduce child labour, while sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed an increase both in relative and absolute terms. This region also has the highest incidence of children working, with one in four children engaged in child labour.

Constance Thomas, Director of the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), outlined some of the key remaining challenges in tackling child labour, including the scale of the problem in Africa, a much needed breakthrough in agriculture – where most child labourers work – and the need to address sometimes “hidden” forms of child labour, which are often among the worst forms.

“Most child labour is rooted in poverty. The way to tackle the problem is clear. We must ensure that all children have the chance of going to school, we need social protection systems that support vulnerable families – particularly at times of crisis – and we need to ensure that adults have a chance of decent work. These measures, combined with effective enforcement of laws that protect children, provide the way forward”, Ms Thomas said.

The ILO IPEC programme was launched in 1992, and in the 2008-09 biennium it was operational in over 90 countries.

The global conference on child labour in The Hague on 10-11 May will gather some 450 delegates from 80 countries. The meeting will also serve as a platform for the launch of an interagency report by the ILO, the World Bank and UNICEF. The report, “Joining forces against child labour – Inter-agency report for The Hague Global Child Labour Conference of 2010”, calls for child labour to be placed at the forefront of national development agendas and presents a range of evidence indicating that child labour constitutes an important impediment to national development.

For more information on the Global Report and the interagency report please contact:
the ILO Department of Communication at +4122/799-7912 or

For more information on the meeting in The Hague, please visit:

For further information on the ILO’s Global Report and efforts to combat Child Labour in Asia and the Pacific please contact:

Ms Sherin Khan, ILO Senior Child Labour Specialist (South Asia), New Delhi, India
Tel: + 91 11 246 021 01, Email

Ms Simrin Singh, ILO Senior Child Labour Specialist (East Asia and Pacific), Bangkok, Thailand
Tel: +66 2 288 1744, Email

Mr Allan Dow, ILO Regional Information Officer a.i. (Asia and Pacific), Bangkok, Thailand
Tel: + 66 2 288 2057, Email

Child Labour in Asia-Pacific

Findings, Advances, Challenges

The numbers in Asia are dropping faster than anywhere else…

With regard to children ages 5 to 14 in employment, the Asia and the Pacific region experienced a considerable decrease, not only in absolute numbers but also in relative terms (a decline of 26 million from 122.3 million to 96.4 million and a 4 percentage point decrease in incidence). For the same age category, the number of children in employment also continued to decline in Latin America and the Caribbean, albeit at a slower rate. However, the number of children in employment was increasing in Sub-Saharan Africa in relative as well as absolute terms in the age group of 5-14 years old

…yet more children are at work today here in Asia-Pacific than the rest of the world combined…

In absolute terms, it is the Asian-Pacific region that has the most child labourers ages 5-17 (113.6 million) as compared with 65.1 million in Sub-Saharan Africa and 14.1 million in Latin America and the Caribbean. One in eight children in the Asia-Pacific region is in some form of child labour. Yet the Sub-Saharan Africa region has the highest incidence of child labour, with one in four children involved.

While most child labour is concentrated in South Asia because of its large population, other ‘pockets’ of child labour – often the hardest to reach “hidden” forms - can be found in most countries across the region. Therefore the critical fight against child labour has to be won in South Asia, where the greatest numbers of child labourers are to be found. Often it is the ‘poverty of policy’ rather than poverty itself that keeps the mass of children out of school and in child labour.

.. many of them in hazardous work ..

More than 48 million children in Asia-Pacific are in hazardous work – in other words, 42% of all the children engaged in child labour in this region are involved in hazardous work. They account for 40% of the world’s total number of children in hazardous work.

..coping amidst devastation and hidden from the eye..

Young people in this region have faced increasing vulnerabilities related to conflict and natural disasters. Asia and the Pacific has been home to many recent conflicts involving children directly or indirectly, such as the destruction of schools and the displacement of families in Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Indonesia and the Philippines have suffered earthquakes and floods. Trafficking of children for labour and sexual exploitation, forced and bonded labour, and domestic labour exist in this region, and often remain hidden adding to the degree of complexity in reaching some of the hardest to reach children.

..with universal access to education still far away..

Investments in education remain low. There is a clear link between lower spending on education and child labour. In South Asia for example, Bangladesh devotes only 2.6 % of its national income to education. Pakistan is 2.7. In India, 3.3 % of GNP goes to education – a smaller portion than the median for sub-Saharan Africa – even though incomes in the former are one-third higher than the latter (Source: UNESCO).

Numbers say it all. India has 445 million children, Bangladesh 64 million and Pakistan 70 million. Not only are these three countries home to one-third of the world’s children, in sheer numbers, India and Pakistan have by far the largest out-of-school child population in the world.

India, as the largest nation in the South Asia sub-region, is aware of these major challenges and has done a great deal to develop policies, programmes and to enact legislation that contributes very substantially to ending child labour. Moreover, former controversies are giving way to an increasingly robust tripartite-plus alliance (Government, Workers and Employers plus Civil Society) in which the various actors are able to contribute their different but complementary roles it tackling child labour.


In nearly 20 years of operation, and with a presence in more than 90 countries, the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) has acquired extensive knowledge about what works and what does not from its field projects in Asia-Pacific and elsewhere.

IPEC knowledge has also been distilled and presented in the form of knowledge products, such as resource kits and good practice digests. These support the training of national policy-makers in areas such as agriculture, children in armed conflict, human trafficking, education, monitoring, and policy and legislative responses.

Eleven middle and low income countries in Asia-Pacific have developed National Action Plans to end child labour within a time-bound period. Among them, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Philippines, Mongolia and Pakistan have undertaken cash transfer schemes to poor and vulnerable households to accelerate school enrolments (and retention) and close the gender gap in basic education.

Re-energizing Asia and the Pacific against Child Labour:

Moving toward universal ratification in Asia and the Pacific of the ILO Conventions on Child Labour would be a big step forward, as a number of countries in the region have yet to ratify C182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour) and C138 (Minimum Age for Employment). See below.

Expanding South-South cooperation between countries can help to raise awareness, resources and replication of good practices within and between countries that are facing similar challenges in combating child labour.

Greater emphasis on getting girls – and boys – into school and out of work can only be achieved through political will and budgetary resources. As the world recovers from the financial and jobs crises of the past two years, moving children from work to school creates more demand for youth and adult workers. Stimulating the economy, offering social protection, and improving educational attainment are objectives of both the Millennium Development Goals and articulated in the ILO’s Global Jobs Pact.

Ratifications of ILO Core Conventions on Child Labour by Member States in Asia and the Pacific:

Convention 182 – Worst Forms of Child Labour – was adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1999 and came into force in 2000. Nearly ten years hence, it has the fastest ratification rate of any Convention in the history of this 90 year old Organization. To date, 172 countries have ratified this important Convention. Still, several countries in Asia and the Pacific have yet to ratify.

Since the last global report, six more countries in Asia and Pacific have ratified C182: Afghanistan (2010), Australia (2006), Brunei Darussalam (2008), Kiribati (2009), Timor Leste (2009) and Vanuatu (2006). Six countries in this region have not yet ratified –India, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Myanmar, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

Convention 138 – Minimum Age for Employment – was adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1973 and came into force in 1976. Since then, 155 countries have ratified. However, a number of countries in Asia and the Pacific have not yet done so.

Since the last global report, three more countries in Asia and the Pacific have ratified C138: Kiribati (2009), Pakistan (2006) and Samoa (2008). A further 14 countries in Asia-Pacific have yet to ratify – Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, India, Iran, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Myanmar, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.