Child Labour

Globally, 264 million children worldwide are at work . Many of them work full-time and often under deplorable and dangerous conditions. Over half of working children do so in hazardous environments, slavery, or other forms of forced labour, illicit activities including drug trafficking and prostitution, as well as involvement in armed conflict.

Today there are an estimated 9.2 million child labourers in the Middle East and North Africa (8.4 per cent of the global total), trapped by factors such as poverty, widespread unemployment and the poor quality of education leading to early dropouts. Most working children in the region are employed in agriculture and around 57 per cent of child labourers are employed in hazardous work.

The last decade has witnessed significant progress in the fight against child labour in the Arab region. With close to a 100 per cent ratification rate of the most important child labour-related ILO Conventions, Arab States have shown a commitment to tackling child labour. Child protection measures, such as raising the minimum age for work, have come into force in many countries.

According to recent global estimates, there are some 168 million child labourers. The number of children engaged in child labour worldwide has dropped by 78 million since 2000.

The ILO Response

Guided by the principles enshrined in the ILO's Minimum Age Convention No. 138 and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182, the ILO's International Programme on Child Labour (IPEC) works to achieve the abolition of child labour through strengthening the capacity of countries to deal with the problem and promoting a worldwide movement to combat child labour.

While maintaining the overall goal of eliminating child labour as a whole, IPEC gives priority to tackling the worst forms of child labour (WFCL). These efforts are driven by the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) and The Hague Roadmap that aims to eliminate the WFCL by 2016, which include:

  • all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced and compulsory labour, including forced and compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
  • the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
  • the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs; and
  • work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

Focus Areas in the Arab States

ILO-IPEC has worked with tripartite partners in Jordan, Yemen, the occupied Palestinian territory and Lebanon to adopt and implement explicit child labour policies which:

  • contribute to the prevention and complete elimination of the WFCL through the development of policy tools such as national actions plans and national child labour surveys;
  • provide technical advice, training, policy planning and capacity building;
  • improve overall coordination and reinforce integration and coherence between the monitoring systems of various stakeholders; and
  • research aspects and trends related to child labour that assist policy decisions and guide direct action.
In 2010, the Central Statistical Organization (CSO) of the Republic of Yemen, in collaboration with ILO-IPEC, the Social Development Fund and UNICEF, conducted the country’s first National Child Labour Survey (NCLS).

In Lebanon ILO has supported the adoption of Decree 8987 on conditions for child work and the worst forms of child labour as well as the development of the National Action Plan to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labour by 2016.

In the occupied Palestinian territory, the ILO has helped to set up the National Steering Committee on Child Labour, provided equipment and training for the new Child Labour Unit at the Ministry of Labour, and conducted research and awareness raising activities.

In 2007, the ILO supported Jordan’s first National Child Labour Survey in the Arab States and is currently supporting the implementation of the National Framework to Combat Child Labour, the development of a national database on child labour and the humanitarian response to the Syrian refugee crisis.