Child Labour in Africa

The 2016 Global Estimates of Child Labour indicate that one-fifth of all African children are involved in child labour, a proportion more than twice as high as in any other region. Nine per cent of African children are in hazardous work, again highest of all the world’s regions.

Africa has the largest number of child labourers; 72.1 million African children are estimated to be in child labour and 31.5 million in hazardous work.

Progress against child labour appears to have stalled in Africa. Child labour went up in Sub-Saharan Africa over the 2012 to 2016 period, in contrast to continued progress elsewhere in the world, and despite the targeted policies implemented by African governments to combat child labour. It is likely that the retrogression was driven in important part by broader economic and demographic forces acting against government efforts, although this matter would require further research. The Africa region has also been among those most affected by situations of state fragility and crisis, which in turn heighten the risk of child labour.

Worldwide, the agriculture sector accounts for by far the largest share of child labour. In Africa, agriculture accounts for 85 per cent of all child labour and for 61.4 million children in absolute terms. Child labour in agriculture relates primarily to subsistence and commercial farming and livestock herding; and it is often hazardous in its nature and in the circumstances it is carried out. Of the remaining children in child labour in Africa, 8.1 million (11 per cent) are found in the services sector and 2.7 million (4 per cent) are found in industry. Most child labour is unpaid, and most children in child labour are not in an employment relationship with a third party employer, but rather work on family farms and family enterprises.

Young children form the largest group of those in child labour. The age breakdown of children in child labour indicate that 59 per cent of all those in child labour are in the 5–11 years age bracket, 26 per cent are aged 12–14 years and 15 per cent fall into the 15–17 years age range. This age profile of child labour in Africa is much “younger” than elsewhere. Children in the youngest age bracket also constitute the largest group in hazardous work in Africa. The group of very young African children facing hazardous work conditions directly endangering their health, safety and moral development is of special concern.

Policy priorities on the road to 2025

In 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): 17 interrelated goals and 169 associated targets to guide global development. SDG Target 8.7 calls on governments to:

"Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms."

The ILO publication Ending child labour by 2025: A review of policies and programmes addresses the main policy priorities on the road to the 2025 date for ending child labour.

Ending child labour requires a multi-faceted response that addresses the array of forces – economic, social, cultural and legal – that contribute to people’s vulnerability and enable abuses. Some overarching regional policy priorities emerging from the global estimates and a growing body of research and practical experience could focus on the following:
  • Expanding access to free, quality public education.
  • Pursuing community mobilization and sensitization.
  • Agriculture should be emphasised in policy.
  • Extending social protection systems, including floors.
  • Ensuring fair and effective migration governance.
  • Protecting vulnerable populations in situations of conflict and disaster.
  • Strengthening legislation and enforcement.
  • Building the evidence base.

ILO’s response to child labour in Africa

The mission of the ILO – through its Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch (FUNDAMENTALS) and more specifically its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) - is to promote the progressive elimination of child labour, with priority given to the worst forms.

The ILO supports African countries in the implementation of the ratified child labour Conventions through the provision of technical advisory services to ILO Constituents and the implementation of development cooperation projects.

In Africa, as elsewhere, FUNDAMENTALS/IPEC works closely with the ILO Regional and Country Offices to provide support for developing and strengthening public policies and legislation; policies and actions by governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations; knowledge development and sharing; direct actions at country and inter-country levels to develop intervention models to prevent, remove and protect children from the worst forms of child labour; advocacy, awareness raising and social mobilization; national and local/district child labour monitoring systems; training and capacity building for constituents and partners; and the development of networks and partnerships involving ILO constituents, regional and sub-regional organizations, and corporate entities.

In spite of these important commitments and actions, the situation of child labour in Africa would require urgent attention in order to support governments and social partners to accelerate and scale-up interventions; with additional resources at the country, sub-regional and regional levels, so as to meet SDG 8.7 to end all forms of child labour by 2025 and forced labour, trafficking and modern slavery by 2030.

The ILO also aims to support the roll-out Alliance 8.7 initiatives in Africa. Alliance 8.7 is a global partnership that was created to help achieve this ambitious undertaking and coordinate with those working on the many. The Alliance focuses on accelerating timelines, conducting research and sharing knowledge, driving innovation, and increasing and leveraging resources interrelated Sustainable Development Goals.

Regional Office – web site

ILO Regional Office for Africa – Child labour