Child labor affects the lives of roughly 150 million children worldwide. These children have been forced to give up school, sports, play and sometimes even their families and homes to work under dangerous, harmful and abusive conditions. Many children are engaged in paid and unpaid forms of work worldwide, but are classified as child laborers when the work is considered hazardous or the child is underage.
The cycle of poverty is one of the largest contributing factors to child labor. Children are forced into dangerous, physically demanding jobs because many poor households use the bulk of their income on food, forcing parents to send or sell their children into the workforce in order to make ends meet. Other factors include culture and tradition, market demand, poor enforcement of legislation, and barriers to education.
Today, agriculture remains one of the most prevalent sectors of child labor, accounting for 59 percent of child laborers worldwide. Other common areas include mining, manufacturing, domestic service and construction.
Many products, foods and services the world relies on have a degree of involvement in child labor, making elimination a difficult task. However, the international community has identified child labor as a major setback in children’s rights and national development, and made substantial progress to combat the situation. Child labor among girls has fallen by 40 percent since 2000, compared to 25 percent for boys. But there is still a great amount of work to be done to continue to reduce the incidence of child labor.
According to the United Nations, effective elimination of child labor requires policies that address recurrent poverty and the vulnerability of households to economic shocks. One of the most important policy responses to child labor is education. With little to no access to education, children are often left with no choice but to begin working in exploitative, dangerous jobs.
The elimination of child labor is not a one-step solution, but with more awareness, access to education and policies in place, the world can continue to move in the right direction.