Child labour falls in Asia Pacific but numbers still high - ILO

by Thin Lei Win | @thinink | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 23 September 2013 11:42 GMT

A child packs up cigarettes in a small bidi (cigarette) factory at Haragach in Rangpur district, Bangladesh, July 13, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

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A report by the International Labour Organisation says the target to eliminate the worst forms of child labour by 2016 will not be met and that the practice isn’t limited to low income countries

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Asia Pacific has more child labourers than any other region in the world, despite recording the largest drop in child labour in the past four years, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said in a report on Monday.

There were 78 million child labourers in the world’s most populous region in 2012, down from 114 million in 2008, the ILO said.

Asia Pacific also has the largest number of children engaged in hazardous work – 33.9 million. This is work that directly endangers a child’s health, safety and moral development. 

Globally, child labour has decreased by one third since 2000, falling from 246 million children to 168 million, according to the report. Still, more than one in 10 children between five and 17 are engaged in child labour and 85 million of those children are doing hazardous work. 

The international community has said it will eliminate the worst forms of child labour by 2016 but the report said this target will not be met, despite the progress made, and meeting this target “is going to require a substantial acceleration of efforts at all levels.”

“A world without child labour is still too far in the future,” the report added. 

Children in the 5-11 years age group account for the largest share of child labourers, said the report, which does not measure domestic workers due to the hidden nature of the work. 

The region with the highest incidence of child labour is Sub-Saharan Africa with more than one in five of its children, or 59 million people, in child labour. 

Progress in fighting child labour was most pronounced in the past four years, with a 40 percent reduction in the number of girls in child labour and a 25 percent decline for boys.


The ratification of the two ILO conventions on child labour and a better understanding of what constitutes child labour and how it harms children have contributed to the decline in child labour in Asia Pacific, said Simrin Singh, ILO’s senior specialist on child labour in Asia Pacific, at the report launch in Bangkok.  

Of the 34 countries in Asia Pacific, 29 have ratified the convention on eliminating the worst forms of child labour while 23 have ratified the convention on establishing a minimum age for work. 

Those who have not ratified the latter include Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh. 

“It’s not just a poor country’s syndrome,” Singh said. 

The report also make a connection between income levels and incidences of child labour. 

"Often you hear that (child labour is) just in poor countries ... It's poverty that's leading and perpetuating child labour. Guess what? It's not,” she said.

According to Singh, middle income countries around the world have a higher number of child labourers (93.5 million) than low income countries (74.3 million). 

This means “action oriented towards raising national and family income levels is important but will not be sufficient in and of itself to eliminate child labour,” the report said.

“While economic growth is important, policy choices can matter even more,” it added. 

The majority of child labour is in agriculture (58.6 percent) although the report’s findings suggest this is beginning to change. 

In Laos, 90 percent of child labourers are in agriculture but only 57 percent were engaged in agriculture while 27 percent were in services in Indonesia, Singh said. 

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