New child labor figures: 168 million working

While the numbers are down, the 85 million who work the most dangerous jobs outnumber the entire US population of children.

By Jason Notte Sep 24, 2013 7:56AM
Filipino child laborers work in the charcoal dump of Port area district on July 9, 2012 in Manila, Philippines (© Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)Because good news is in short supply these days, we'll lead with that: The number of child laborers around the world is down to 168 million today from 215 million in 2008. Children performing the most hazardous labor have seen their ranks drop to 85 million from 171 million in 2000.

That's about as cheery as this story gets, and even that information is fairly bleak.

According to the International Labour Office, that pool of 168 million child workers ages 5 through 17 is larger than all but seven nations on the globe. It's bigger than the populations of Bangladesh (152.5 million), Russia (143.5 million), Japan (127.3 million) and Mexico (118.4 million). It's more than double the size of Germany (80.5 million) and nearly the size of France (66 million), the U.K. (63.7 million) and Spain (46.7 million) combined.

Oh, and those 85 million kids working nights and long hours, laboring underground or underwater and being subject to physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse? That's 11 million more children than the U.S. has. It's also not counting the absolute worst forms of child labor -- the forced prostitution and paramilitary service fueled by human trafficking -- because nations don't tend to freely offer accurate numbers on those kinds of transgressions, and many of those children are usually part of the hazardous labor pool anyway.

In case you're curious about the latter, though, the ILO estimated last year about 5.5 million children aged 17 years and younger are being forced into labor. That's roughly a quarter of the 20.9 million people forced to work around the world. That also includes those forced into sexual exploitation (960,000 children), for labor exploitation (3,780,000) and by the state (709,000).

A full 73 million child laborers, or 44% of the total, are children between the ages of 5 and 11. Roughly 59% of them work in agriculture, many on small family farms. But others play a large role in the livestock and fishing industries.

An additional 54 million work in the service industry, with 11.5 million employed as domestic workers and the rest taking unpaid work at hotels and restaurants, manning stands, carts or corners as street sellers or supplementing work in auto repair shops or even transporting customers themselves.

Unpaid family workers account for more than two-thirds of child laborers (68%), followed by paid employment (23%) and the self-employed (8%).

And many of these children do the most dangerous work: at heights or in confined spaces; using dangerous machinery, equipment and tools; manually handling or transporting heavy loads; and working in environments filled with hazardous substances, temperatures, noise levels or even long, painful stretches of fast-paced work. Some 55% of those burdens is carried by children 15 to 17 years old, 81% of whom are boys. Children ages 5-11 still make up 22% of this labor pool, with girls taking 58% of those jobs mostly in domestic work.

The situation looks most acute in Asia, where nearly 78 million children are involved and a full 34 million work in the most hazardous jobs. However, that's 9.3% and 4.1% of Asia's child population, respectively. In sub-Saharan Africa, the 59 million child laborers make up more than 21% of all children. The 29 million children doing hazardous work in that region account for one in 10 of that area's kids.

It's not much prettier in Latin America and the Caribbean, which have 12.5 million child laborers, but a whopping 9.6 million (or 7% of all children) are placed directly in harm's way.

That those numbers are shrinking is great, but they're falling woefully short of the ILO's goal of eliminating dangerous child labor by 2016. Good news is lovely and all, but unrealistic expectations and the lack of financial and political will to get rid of child workers isn't doing much to help the laborers themselves.

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Tags: Dramajobs
Sep 24, 2013 8:57AM

Why do they include numbers all the way to 17?  I started working at 14.  There is nothing wrong with that.

Children working on farms is a right of passage to that lifestyle and teaches them good work ethic.


Having said all that, anybody that puts a young child in a factory or other hazardous job involving machines or hazardous chemicals or waste should be drug behind a truck through a briar patch.

Sep 24, 2013 11:27AM

American companies say tsk-tsk and try to assure everyone they are not part of this third world use of children. The fact is they run their corporate business through so many umbrella companies they have no idea who is doing what. There's hardly ever a direct tie in to the last company in line who commits the crime.

We know the caste system is alive and well in many Middle East and Asian countries but pretend it isn't. If we admitted it we would have no justification for sending them billions in assistance every year. Companies that outsource to these foreign countries know the only way they are getting the production for pennies on the dollar is through slave labor. It's okay to turn a blind eye as long as the share holders are happy and the guys at the top get their million dollar pay checks.

If Americans were willing to pay an extra nickel for a T-shirt, the jobs could be kept at home employing millions more Americans. They tell us they are removing labels from certain garments for ascetic and style reasons when, in fact, it is to save half a penny on the cost of producing the label and the ten year old who previously supported his parents by sewing the label on. 

When the corporate brass do their all expense paid fact finding trips to the factories, do they even bother to get out of the limo to see what's going on inside. The sure don't do any unexpected tours because that wouldn't allow enough time to set up a dummy showplace factory. If people actually started refusing to buy items not 'Made In America' our economy would blossom.

Sep 24, 2013 11:01AM
That's why American companies go across seas.
And here in the US, we cant get the kids to even mow the lawn.
Sep 24, 2013 11:07AM
People outside of the USA do whatever it takes to stay alive.
Sep 24, 2013 11:56AM

15 to 17?  In many cultures that's an adult; they even marry.  The idea that they are children, and below the age of consent, is a cultural matter, and not all societies share that value.  There is absolutely nothing wrong in their cultures with these people entering the adult work force.  They should not be counted.


Children working in family businesses?  That used to be the American way.  It still should be.  That's why they have summers off from school, because traditionally they needed to be home to help their parents work the family farm.  The loss of this culture of being taught the value of hard work at an early age has had a devastating effect on our society.  Our children grow up to be spoiled brats, all too often, never learning the value of a dollar.

Sep 24, 2013 11:35AM
Unpaid family workers account for more than two-thirds of child laborers (68%), followed by paid employment (23%) and the self-employed (8%).

Really? You mean like farms? You know, you'd probably get a lot more sympathy from me if you just focused on the child labor, like sweat shops and 5 year olds making bricks. 
This story really doesn't sound that bad. At 17, I worked my a$$ off and was happy to do it!
Sep 24, 2013 11:48AM

I worked in the West Texas cotton fields 10 hours a day, 50 hours a week, starting when I was 10 years.  I did not view it as a problem but as an opportunity to buy my school clothes for the coming school year.  I think kids would learn the value of money if they had to work for it


Sep 24, 2013 11:11AM
They don't take it into account if the kids didn't work they would die from not having food. Look at american history with kids working in the mines, they started when they were 6 or 7 years old. Its the same in these places today but look at the locations, they were like us 60 to 70 years ago.
Sep 24, 2013 12:08PM

They use the word child laborers. We in fact they should call it child slavery.   

Sep 24, 2013 11:28AM
In the United States, there are child labor laws that protect children.  These laws state specifically just how many hours a child can work during a day, and how many hours, with a time limit, in evening hours.  Not too many years ago, children in this country did not have these laws, and children really didn't have a child's life.  Therefore, children are no longer exploited by hours and in jobs that could harm them.  There is an entry age in the job market for children.  These jobs are never in any way in harmful activity.  Certain areas of 'work'  are good for children, such as, farm, nursery.  They are outside/inside jobs providing the fresh air environment.  This country is lucky to have these laws, and my heart goes out to the children of the world where no one seems to care about them.
Sep 24, 2013 12:11PM

I find it fascinating that most are down-playing the actual message of the article by stating that, they too, worked at the ages of 15 to 17 and that those ages should not be counted....


Are you people actually that dense??????????

The point is that these kids are being put to work, no, being forced into some form of sweatshop or other means of slave labor.  These kids are not working on a family farm, and nowhere in the report is the statistic of kids being "married off" at a young age, that was not even factored into the "labor" statistics.  That's great and all that we were all working at young ages but what is wrong with you people most of these kids they speak of, by the time they are 15-17, have seen far more "work" and shared far more traumatic experience than we will see in an entire lifetime from this slave labor regimen.  Not to mention, when you kids were working on the farm or in a grocery store or whatever, you were getting paid were you not?  THESE KIDS AREN'T, HAVE SOME RESPECT, I don't give a crippled crab's crutch how you denigrate the message by selfishly including your own mediocre work history, as Americans, 99% of us were playing video games, watching cartoons, and eating cereal at 5 years old, NOT holding an AK-47, getting traded off into sex slavery, or being put to work in a diamond mine,  I mean geez, I think downplaying the woes of the world, with our own pathetic half-**** sob stories that pale in comparison, that has become the American Way....

*single tear rolls down cheek

Sep 24, 2013 11:17AM
If the world wants to end terrorism here is a start! Lets get all these kids into real schools. Give them a chance at a future. Besides being the right thing to do for them it is just the RIGHT thing to do for everyone!
Sep 24, 2013 12:28PM

I would be interested in seeing the numbers for kids under 14.  I see nothing wrong with kids having responsibilities of working to earn the things they want.  I do not, however, condone long hours and hazardous work.  America's children are rapidly becoming a generation of lazy and irresponsible moochers.  I always asked my mom, when I was a kid, why do the people in starving countries continue to have babies and watch them die.  She said it was against their religion to use birth control.... well it is against my religion to watch my child starve to death.......or be worked to death.

Sep 24, 2013 12:32PM
Im from the USA started working at about 7 years old picking in the fields to help make money for my family. I have some ailments from it, mostly joint pains .But as one poster put it, I learned  to have a good work ethic from it. It felt good to me to know I was helping out my family. Education is the key to getting out of that sort of economic situation, for the children as well as for there parents. 
Sep 24, 2013 1:04PM
For thousands of years, 13 was the age of adulthood. Now, we are going to tell the rest  of the world they are wrong for having their kids work on the family farm at 17. Just because you are lazy, doesn't mean everyone else is. 
I don't want to downplay actual child slavery, but the story presented little in the way of facts and figures regarding that!
Sep 24, 2013 12:46PM

There were 215 million working in 2008, now it is down to 168 million.

In just 5 years time there are now 37 million unemployed kids.

It must be rough on them and their families to be trying to survive without that income.

shame, isn't it.

Sep 24, 2013 1:30PM
What I find most frustrating about this article is that there are no solutions presented. I don't want young children forced to work in dangerous conditions or especially children forced into prostitution but what can I as a middle class American struggling to pay my mortgage each month do? And this isn't a rhetorical question, I really want to know what, if anything, I can do?
Sep 24, 2013 1:20PM

Think about this, another article is espousing that "children" don't "mature" until age 25! We wonder why it is that people come here from other countries and are able to do so well, while people that were born here end up on welfare living in trailer parks.


We're becoming softer, lazier, and dumber, with each passing generation.

Sep 24, 2013 1:13PM

40 years ago the world had a fraction of today's population, and 40 years ago we didn't have video access to what was occurring in the most remote corners of the world, let alone reliable information about anything.  

Real progress starts with ourselves, then our family, then our community, state, country et cetera. And all should use that as an example and stop waiting for someone else to take care of the mess you made, or hand feed you when you yourself is perfectly capable of taking care of yourself. Thinking too big creates impractical  expectations, and we eventually give up and blame everyone else but ourselves.

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