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Stepping up the fight against child labour

Press release | 11 June 2012
GENEVA (ILO News) – A large gap remains between the ratification of Conventions on child labour and the actions countries take to deal with the problem, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said in a report marking the tenth anniversary of the annual World Day Against Child Labour.

“There is no room for complacency when 215 million children are still labouring to survive and more than half of these are exposed to the worst forms of child labour, including slavery and involvement in armed conflict. We cannot allow the eradication of child labour to slip down the development agenda – all countries should be striving to achieve this target, individually and collectively,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia.

New estimates released on 1 June showed that some 5 million children are caught in forced labour, which includes conditions such as commercial sexual exploitation and debt bondage – and this is thought to be an underestimate.

The ILO’s child labour Conventions 138 concerning the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment and 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour are among the most widely ratified of all the ILO Conventions. Of the ILO’s 185 member States, 88 per cent have ratified the first and 95.1 per cent the latter. The goal is universal ratification by 2015.

There is no room for complacency when 215 million children are still labouring to survive (...)”
Juan Somavia
However, according to a new report entitled, Tackling child labour: From commitment to action, progress in reducing child labour has often been outweighed by a failure to translate commitments into practice.

The largest gap between commitment and action is in the informal economy, where the majority of violations of fundamental labour rights occur, the report says. Children in rural and agricultural areas, as well as children of migrant workers and indigenous peoples, are most vulnerable to being caught in child labour.

The ILO also indicates that relatively few cases against child labour reach national courts of law. Sanctions for violations are often too weak to be effective deterrents against the exploitation of children. This means national judicial and law enforcement institutions along with victim protection programmes need to be strengthened.

While much more needs to be done, the ILO paper recognizes the important progress being made in a number of countries to improve law and practice. This includes:

  • A growing list of countries establishing national plans to tackle child labour.
  • Many new legislative prohibitions that aim identify and prevent hazardous work by children.
  • More legislation being adopted against child prostitution and child pornography.
  • A marked increase in international cooperation and mutual assistance among member States, particularly on issues concerning trafficking.
“We should also build on national policies and programmes that are in place and learn from them to ensure effective action against child labour in all parts of the world,” said the ILO Director-General. He added: “Decent work for parents, and education for children are indispensable elements of strategies for the elimination of child labour. Let us redouble our efforts and move forward with the Roadmap adopted in The Hague in 2010 to eliminate the worst forms of child labour by 2016.”

The ILO’s Conventions seek to protect children from exposure to child labour. Together with other international instruments relating to children’s, workers’ and human rights they provide an important framework for legislation, policies and actions against child labour.

Watch - Ending Child Labour by 2016: the Continuing Challenge

Notes to Editors:

  • The World Day against Child Labour, marked each year on 12 June, is the major annual advocacy event focussing on child labour. In 2012 the theme is “Human Rights and Social Justice: Let's end child labour”. Events are being held in more than 50 countries involving governments, employers, workers, the United Nations, non-governmental and civil society organizations. Events range from high-level policy debates, public debates, media events, awareness-raising campaigns and cultural performances. 
  • For more information or to interview experts in child labour, contact the ILO International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour at: +4122/799-6164 or +4176/771-3085 (English), +4122/799-7037 or +4176/371-1252 (English, Spanish), or +4122/799-6618 or +4176/7173-647 (English, French) or via email:


The Policy Note draws on two Reports being considered by the 2012 International labour Conference: ILO, Fundamental principles and rights at work: From commitment to action (Recurrent discussion under the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization and the follow up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work) and ILO, Giving globalization a human face, General Survey on the fundamental Conventions concerning rights at work in light of the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization, 2008, Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, Report III (Part 1B), International Labour Conference, 101st Session, Geneva, 2012.