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We are moving in the right direction, but we will need to move much more quickly to completely eliminate child labour by 2025

Child labour slow decrease in Latin America and the Caribbean

Child labour decreased 17% in Latin America between 2012 and 2016. The number of children working in the region dropped from 12.5 million to 10.5, as it can be deduced from the report Global Estimates of Child Labour, launched by ILO and developed in the framework of the Alliance 8.7.

According to the estimates, the net prevalence of child labour in Latin America and the Caribbean shrink from 8.8% in 2012 to 7.3% in 2016. This shows a slow progress, which is also uneven among countries. Vulnerable groups, likewise indigenous peoples, girls and adolescent women living in rural areas, need more attention.

The report use data from a to­tal of 105 national household surveys covering more than 70 per cent of the world population of children aged 5 to 17 years. It is the first time a Global Estimates report includes information from OECD countries, such as the United Stes of America and Canada in the Americas, but also China.

According to the report, there are 10.7 million children and adolescents aged 5 to 17 in child labour in the Americas (Latin America, the Caribbean, USA and Canada), equal to 5.3% of the age range. Out of them 6.5 million, equal to 3.2%, are in hazardous work. 

In the world …

  • 152 millions of children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 17 are working in the world. 72.5 millions of them are in hazardous work.
  • In terms of the age range, Children aged 5 to 11 years form the largest share of those in child labour.
  • When it comes to gender, 58% of the children and adolescents who are working are man, but girls and female adolescents are more prone to be more present in less visible and under-reported forms of child labour such as domestic work and domestic chores in private households, as well as in reproductive chores in family unit.
  • The gender gap in child labour increases according to the age. While there is one percent point difference between man and woman in the age group between 5 to 11 years, the difference is up to 5 percent points in the group between 15 to 11 years.
  • In terms of productive sectors, 71% of child labour is concentrated in the agriculture (107 millions).

More than 50% of children working in the region do so in agriculture; while the second sector concentrating more working minors is services (35%), followed by industry (13%). This is different in other regions. Agriculture is the most important sector for child labour worldwide, whereas only in Latin America and the Caribbean does the service sector concentrate more children working than industry. This might be influenced by the increasing urbanization registered in countries.

Regarding the gender profile of child labour, the report points out a slower decrease among girls and adolescent women. Whereas child labour shrink by a 12% among boys, it only decreased by 6% for girls. The decline in hazardous worked slowed in a similar fashion. It declined by 19% for boys and only by 8% for girls. This might be influenced by the type of work and chores assigned to girls and boys.

The report includes a reference to child labour in accordance with the classification of national income of the countries. Thus, it is estimated that 19% of child labour is concentrated in low-income countries (in case of Latin America, only one country is in this category); 8% in low-middle-income countries (8 countries of the region are in this category); 7% in upper middle-income countries (21 countries of the region are in this group) and 1% in high-income countries (three Caribbean countries are in this category).

Regarding the relationship between education and child labour, the 2017 global estimates show that 36 million children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 14 work and do not attend school. They represent 32% of the total of boys and girls in that age range. This should not be interpreted as the possibility of making work and study compatible, since 68% of the children who combine work and study between the ages of 5 and 14 are less energetic and tend to perform relatively poorly in terms of learning achievement and face the risk of lag behind their non-working peers in terms of grade progression. They also face the risk of lagging behind, accumulating disadvantages that affect their prospects of having access to sustainable livelihoods.

The response in Latin America and the Caribbean

  • Although reduction of child labour has generally been slow compared to the period from 2008 to 2012, news from the region are encouraging, especially for the decrease of hazardous work.
  • This correlates to the actions taken by the countries of this region between 2013 and 2016, when the Regional Initiative Latin America and the Caribbean Free of Child Labour (RI) was created. The Regional Initiative is an intergovernmental platform integrated by 27 countries and representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations. Its main goals are to accelerate the pace of child labour elimination, to strengthen national efforts to achieve this objective and to take advantage of accumulated experience and knowledge to jointly cooperate in critical areas such as indigenous people, migration, education, agriculture, youth employment, decentralization, value chains and information technologies.
  • The Regional Initiative designed new responses aiming to break the trajectory of child labour and to design effective actions for child labour prevention on the local level. Therefore, a model has been design to identify the risk of child labour and its probability in a specific territory. This provides quality information that allows timely responses and direct services to be set in place for children, adolescents, families and communities.

On the other hand, the global report highlights the reality of child labour in situations of fragility and crisis, such as armed conflicts or disasters. In this regard, it is said that, according to UNICEF, one of every four children lives in countries affected by conflicts and disasters, this increases the risk of child labour and school dropout to devote to work, as child labour constitutes a survival mechanism used by families when the degree of vulnerability increases.

The estimates of child labour in countries affected by armed conflict include Colombia, along with countries in different regions such as Afghanistan, Ukraine, Iraq, among others. The report calls upon the need to reflect on the importance of standing against child labour in this cases, as a priority in the humanitarian responses of governments, employers, workers and social organizations.







So far, the global report is only available in English at the following links: