Migration and child labour

Globally, 1 in 8 persons is a migrant. This includes an estimated 214 million international migrants and an estimated 740 million internal migrants. Youth account for a large share; about a third of the migrant flow from all developing countries is in the age range of 12 to 24. This includes millions of children under the age of 18 who migrate internally or across national borders, with or without their parents.

In the coming years an unprecedented number of young people are expected to follow this massive exodus and shift population dynamics further, driven by demographic factors, economic disparity, violent conflict, state failure, natural disasters, and resource and environmental pressures, especially climate change.

Though migration can be a positive experience for children and can provide them with a better life, increased opportunities and an escape from immediate threats such as forced marriage, conflict and natural disaster, child migrants can face serious challenges while migrating. These challenges are particularly serious when children migrate without proper documents and/or without their families, and in countries where legal protection is absent and where children are prevented from accessing basic services such as education and health care. In these situations, child migrants are at a high risk of exploitation and vulnerable to child labour. Many child migrants end up in agriculture or services such as domestic work. Some of them, but not all, are victims of trafficking.

Child migrants often experience maltreatment – including suffering from isolation, violence, sub standard working conditions, non-payment of wages, and the threat of being reported to the authorities. Evidence suggests further that amongst child labourers it is migrant children who receive less pay, work longer hours, less often attend school, and face higher death rates at work in comparison to local children.

Despite the numbers of children involved, the needs and interests of migrant children are largely absent from mainstream debates on child protection, child labour and migration. As a result, most governments have failed to develop effective policy responses to assist and protect migrant children. And yet, governments are obliged to offer such protection as per Article 2.1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that “Every child without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his/her parents or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status is born with the same rights”. This includes the right to be free from child labour for both local and migrant children.

The Roadmap for achieving the elimination of the worst forms of child labour by 2016, agreed to at The Hague Global Child Labour Conference in 2010, also includes a focus on child migrants. In Article 5 it states that “Governments should consider ways to address the potential vulnerability of children to, in particular the worst forms of child labour, in the context of migratory flows”.

To address these challenges IPEC is integrating a migrant child perspective in its actions against child labour as follows:

  • An increasing number of projects include a focus on migrant children;
  • Child labour research deals with migrant children;
  • Where possible, relevant advocacy tools, events and policy advise include attention to child migrants; and,
  • IPEC collaborates with 15 international organizations and NGOs in the recently created Global Working Group on Children on the Move for a set of joint initiatives focusing on child migrants.

A related topic that also requires attention is how migration of parents who leave their children behind affects these children in terms of education and the risk of child labour. Where relevant, IPEC will promote inclusion of such a focus in research on the impact of remittances.

Relevant links