Data on the prevalence of the worst forms of child labour

Question

What data do we have about the prevalence of the worst forms of child labour? How robust are the data and what are the limitations of existing data sets?

Summary

This rapid review synthesises findings from rigorous academic, practitioner, and policy references published in the past fifteen years that discuss the prevalence of the worst forms of child labour. Globally, children are routinely engaged in paid and unpaid forms of work that are considered not harmful to them. They are classified as child labourers when they are either too young to work or are involved in hazardous activities that may compromise their physical, mental, social or educational development1. According to the International Labour Organisation (IPEC, 2013: 7) the term “child labour” is a subset of “children in employment”, it includes all children in employment 5-11 years of age; excludes those in the 12-14 year age group engaged in “permissible light work”; and, from among the 15-17-year-olds, includes only those in hazardous work or other worst forms of child labour.

Key Findings

  • While data on the worst forms of child labour and information about government efforts to address this issue are improving, data are still insufficient to provide a complete understanding of the problem
  • Sources of data on child labour (including the worst forms of child labour) include the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and the Child Labour Surveys of the ILOs Statistical Information and Monitoring Programme on Child Labour (SIMPOC) surveys. The Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) have adopted the MICS module on child labour in its questionnaires (UNICEF, 2012). Many countries also produce national labour estimates and reports that often include data on child labour and/or employment among children.
  • The existence of the worst forms child labour often involves violations of laws and regulations, including serious criminal violations. Information on all forms of child labour may be difficult to gather and intentionally suppressed. Additionally, the victims of the worst forms of child labour may be vulnerable politically underrepresented or marginalised and therefore unable to claim their rights or communicate their situations.
  • Global estimates of children in worst forms other than hazardous are not consistently measured directly by the ILO, due to the often hidden and illicit nature of these extreme forms of child labour and the subsequent lack of reliable data on them in most countries.
  • Adequately accounting for gender concerns is critical to the success of interventions against child labour and of later interventions promoting successful transition to decent work (ILO, 2015). Girls are considered to be also particularly vulnerable to worst forms of child labour such as commercial sexual exploitation and to hidden forms of child labour such as domestic work in third-party households.
  • A number of definitional challenges and methodological issues underlie the challenges of recording numbers of children engaged in the worst forms of child labour. These include issues associated with defining child labour, definitions of the worst forms of child labour and issues associated with variations in data available and its collection.

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Suggested citation

Avis, W. (2017). Data on the prevalence of the worst forms of child labour. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.