New ILO Study on Child Labour in South Asia

The ILO’s first South Asia report estimates almost 17 million children between five and 17 years are engaged in child labour in South Asia, with one in five of these being aged 11 or under.

Press release | New Delhi, India | 25 February 2015
NEW DELHI (ILO News) - A new ILO report has found that almost 17 million children between five and 17 are engaged in child labour in South Asia, and one in five of these are aged 11 or under.

Describing the 16.7 million figure as a conservative estimate, the report found that of these child labourers, 5.8 million are in India, the highest number in the region. This is followed by 5 million in Bangladesh, 3.4 million in Pakistan and 2 million in Nepal. However, in relative terms, children in Nepal face the highest risk of being in child labour, with more than a quarter of 5-17 year-olds in the country engaged in child labour.

The report, “Measuring children’s work in South Asia: Perspectives from national household surveys” is the ILO’s first South Asia report on child labour and children’s employment. It provides an overview of child labour, children in employment and educational marginalization in the South Asian region. It brings together data from 2005/6 to 2011/12, gathered through national household surveys in seven South Asian countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The report notes that the national surveys capture mainly information on hazardous work, but other worst forms of child labour are also prevalent in the South Asia region, including debt bondage, children in armed conflict, sexual exploitation and child domestic labour.

Agriculture absorbs the highest percentage of children in employment, the report found – ranging from 46 per cent in Bangladesh to 94 per cent in Nepal.

All the countries surveyed also reported a significant proportion of children who are neither in employment nor school; a total of 24 million under-14 children in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh alone. Out-of-school children are a “formidable challenge” in the South Asia region, the report says.

“Millions of children across South Asia are trapped in child labour and millions more are missing from education, so the need for a massive and sustained response is urgent and critical,” said Sherin Khan, Senior Child Labour Specialist at the ILO’s Decent Work Team for South Asia. “The report points to multiple child labour hotspots that must be addressed urgently, by integrating action against child labour into a much wider range of policies, action and reporting systems. We also need to find better ways to measure the problem, so countries can use that information to plan better solutions”.

The report’s recommendations include reinforcing efforts in rural areas and particularly for children in agriculture, incorporating child labour issues into social welfare and protection programmes, increasing public spending on basic education for both girls and boys, and more research into the relationship between work and school.

“The report is a wake-up call, reminding us that addressing child labour must be an urgent priority,” said Corinne Vargha, Chief of ILO’s Fundamental Labour Rights Programme. “While there has been decline in the number of child labourers globally, most markedly in Asia and the Pacific, the magnitude of the problem in South Asia in particular, is of great concern. The ILO is working with the South Asian governments and partners to help them resolve the problem”.

Welcoming the report, Dr. Rinchen Chophel, Director-General of the South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIEVAC), which is part of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation’s (SAARC) architecture, said, ‘’Child labour is a serious issue of concern and therefore, one of the priority themes of SAIEVAC. We must facilitate the sharing of experience and learning among countries to accelerate action. The findings of the report show that we need to review national policies on child labour, identify gaps and strengthen efforts to harmonize the policies into an integrated framework.”

The report also proposes that more needs to be done to ensure that children who are old enough to be employed are not in hazardous work. It calls for more research of those children who are missing from the data (neither in school nor work), and particularly into the role of child marriage, forced labour, trafficking, sexual exploitation and exploitative domestic work. It also calls for better child labour statistics and strengthening coordination among national and international agencies.


For more information please contact:

Sherin Khan
Senior Child Labour Specialist, South Asia
ILO - DWT for South Asia and Country Office for India
New Delhi, India
Tel: +91-11-4750-9200