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Education and

Child Labour

Key message

Education is a proven strategy for reducing child labour.

There is broad consensus that improving access to and the quality of schooling are the two most effective ways to decrease child labour. Children who have access to good quality education are better able to secure the skills and knowledge necessary to obtain a well-paying job, know their rights, and break the cycle of poverty and exploitation. Conversely, out-of-school child labourers are significantly more likely to be locked into a lifetime of low-pay, poor health, and vulnerability.
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Key challenges
  • The number of children in child labour has started to increase. Since 2016, there has been an increase of 8.4 million children aged 5-17 years in child labour, equating to 63 million girls and 97 million boys. This is the first increase reported by the ILO in two decades.
    (UNICEF & ILO, 2021)
  • Child labour is a primary reason for children being out of school. Over one third of children in child labour do not attend school. 35% of these children are aged 5-17 years.
    (UNICEF & ILO, 2021)
  • Child labour hinders education even when children are able to attend school. Children attending school who are involved in child labour have lower levels of academic achievement and are more likely to drop out prematurely.
    (UNICEF & ILO, 2021)
  • The quality of education matters in eliminating child labour. A survey of out-of-school children across a number of countries cited lack of interest and engagement as a primary driver of not attending school.
    (ILO, 2018)
  • Child labour greatly constrains the ability of a child to attend school. In nearly every country, a significant gap in attendance rates exists between those involved in child labour and those not. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, child labourers are four times less likely to be in school.
    (UCW, 2020)  (UNGEI, 2012)
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed more children out of school and into child labour. An additional nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labor by the end of 2022 due to the pandemic. In a recent survey, the number of children accompanying their parents to brick kiln worksites in India increased 67% during the crisis.
    (UNICEF & ILO, 2021)  (Aide et Action Southeast Asia, 2021)
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Make the case
  • Simply increasing the duration of compulsory education can reduce child labour. In China, requiring one additional semester of schooling reduced the rate of child labour by 8%.
    (Tang et al., 2019)
  • Education has an intergenerational impact on child labour. Educated parents are more likely to invest in their own children’s education, and children of educated parents are far less likely to be child labourers.
    (UCW, 2017)
  • Providing education and eliminating child labour is good social and economic policy. Eliminating child labour and implementing universal education would deliver benefits seven times greater than the costs.
    (ILO, 2004)
  • Expanding access to schools reduces child labour. In Guatemala, each additional 10 minutes of travel time to school increases the chances a girl will be involved in child labour by 2.2%.
    (UCW, 2003)
  • Early childhood education is a key tool to eliminating child labour. Children enrolled in early childhood education programmes are more likely to transition successfully to primary school rather than the workforce.
    (ILO, 2018)
  • There is a complex relationship between household wealth and school attendance. Whilst children from poorer households and those out of school are more likely to be involved in child labour, data shows that many children who attend school and children from relatively rich households are also engaged.
    (Park et. al, 2020)
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Key Q&As
  • When a child labour is a matter of income for basic survival, isn’t it impossible for a family to send their child to school?
  • Child labour is a violation of human rights. There are many effective programmes which can support families living in poverty and allow children to attend school instead of work. For instance, conditional cash transfers can reward families who choose education over work and break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.
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Key opinion
Kevin Watkins Headshot 2020
Kevin Watkins
Former CEO of Save the Children
The COVID-19 pandemic has created the biggest education emergency of our lifetime. Schools not only provide children with a space to learn. For many children, school also keeps them protected from harm - where they can be referred to child protection and mental health services. But with school closures, children are missing out on these essentials. The protection schools provide is particularly important for the most vulnerable children, such as children living in conflict-affected areas or refugees. These children are at risk of being recruited into armed groups; being forced to do hazardous and exploitative work; and being forced into marriage and early pregnancy.
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Key talking points
  • Globally, 160 million children are in child labour, accounting for one in 10 of all children worldwide.
  • This number surges to just over one in four children in the poorest countries.
  • Accessible, quality education helps prevent child labour and break the cycle of poverty.
  • Offering incentives, such as cash transfers, encourages families to send children to school instead of work.
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