Child labour and armed conflict

Children associated with armed forces and groups

Tens of thousands of girls and boys find themselves fighting adult wars in at least 17 countries in different regions around the world. Some are used as fighters and take direct part in hostilities while others are used in supportive roles (e.g. cooks, porters, messengers, or spies) or for sexual purposes. They are abducted, forcefully recruited or personally decide to enrol (for instance for survival, for protection or for vengeance). However, when personal initiatives are analysed, it becomes clear that they were taken under duress and in ignorance of the consequences.

The use of children in armed conflict is a worst form of child labour, a violation of human rights and a war crime. ILO Convention No.182 defines forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict as a worst form of child labour. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict prohibits all recruitment – voluntary or compulsory – of children under 18 by armed forces and groups. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court makes it a war crime, leading to individual prosecution, to conscript or enlist children under the age of 15 years or use them to participate actively in hostilities.

Efforts to put an end to child recruitment and release children from armed forces and groups have intensified in the last decade. The United Nations negotiate action plans with armed parties to end recruitment of children. Release and reintegration programmes are being implemented worldwide and aim at supporting the process through which children transition into civil society and enter into meaningful roles and identities as civilians who are accepted by their families and communities in a context of local and national reconciliation.

Addressing this violation of fundamental rights has been a concern and an obligation for the ILO ever since the coming into force of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182 in 2000. The ILO’s strategy to prevent recruitment of children at risk and ensure sustainable reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces and armed groups, is to focus efforts on providing sustainable work opportunities for children of legal working age. This strategic choice is intended to optimize the ILO’s value added in the field of skills development and employment. In this way, the ILO complements the interventions of other agencies that are more involved in the release of children and other aspects of their reintegration.

IPEC has implemented projects aiming at the economic reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces and armed groups and other war affected children in Central Africa (Burundi, Congo, DRC and Rwanda), in Colombia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Through these projects, IPEC has developed a sound approach for economic reintegration that has been documented in the Strategic framework for addressing the economic gap in prevention of child recruitment and reintegration of children associated with armed forces and groups and the “How-to” guide on economic reintegration of working age children formerly associated with armed forces and groups.

The IPEC current strategy is to contribute to strengthening the economic component of reintegration programmes implemented by partner organizations. Together with ILO’s International Training Centre, IPEC has developed a capacity building programme aiming to train child protection agencies and other key stakeholders at country level on economic reintegration of conflict-affected children.

Other worst forms of child labour in conflict and post conflict settings

The girls and boys who are associated with armed forces and groups are only a small proportion of a much larger number of children who are trapped in other worst forms of child labour as a result of armed conflict. Conflict has a destructive impact on the socio economic environment and can increase the risk factors associated with child labour. Conflict also increases the potential for children already working to be involved in more dangerous and harmful work. These indirect effects on the worst forms of child labour last after the conflict ends. Armed conflict is one of the major challenges to meeting the target of eliminating all worst forms of child labour by 2016. This has led IPEC, in close collaboration with the ILO International Training Centre, to explore ways of addressing more systematically how conflict and post-conflict settings, including emergency situations, impact on the worst forms of child labour.


  1. Child Protection Working Group’s Task Force on the Minimum Standards launch video on child labour in emergencies

    24 March 2015

    This video on child labour in emergencies is part of a video series on Child Protection Needs Standards.

  2. "Jacques": a former gang member

    16 June 2014

    As part of the World Day Against Child Labour, the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), is getting together with the Haitian daily newspaper “Le Nouvelliste”. The aim is to support 10 young journalists selected by the organization Enpak, for nearly 3 months, in order for them to create articles discussing the various aspects of child labour in Haiti. These articles will be published on a weekly basis, in the newspaper and in IPEC website, as of the 12th June 2014.

  3. Job for former child soldiers

    06 December 2012

    The ILO is pursuing its efforts to strengthen the economic component of reintegration programmes for former child soldiers in countries concerned. Two new projects have started in 2012.