One hundred sixty million children are victims of child labor around the world. Child labor is a crisis in both low- and high-income countries, including the United States.
To give you some more insight into this topic, I’ve put together 30 child labor statistics and facts. This post covers child labor statistics in varying countries, risk factors, and child trafficking data in Asia, Africa, America, and many other places.
But in the end, we are not helpless. There is much we can do, no matter our location, to fight against child labor. I’ll end the post with eight ways to put an end to child labor.
Key Takeaways About Child Labor
Here are 10 notable facts about child labor.
- As a region, Africa has the most cases of child labor out of all the continents.
- In the U.S.A., the Department of Labor found a 69 percent increase in children being illegally employed.
- One of the main risk factors of child labor is poverty.
- During the global pandemic of 2020, more children were at risk of becoming child labor victims.
- Migrant and refugee children — those displaced because of disaster or conflict — are at higher risk for child labor.
- Twenty-seven percent of trafficking victims are children.
- Most of the time, trafficking victims know the trafficker. In many cases, this person is a family friend, family member, or even a romantic partner.
- Educational opportunities and schooling can end child labor.
- If countries had better child labor laws that were actively enforced, child labor cases would drastically decrease.
- Many brands will use a supply chain that involves child labor somewhere along the journey.
Does Child Labor Still Exist Today?
Unfortunately, child labor is still prevalent in this modern day. Roughly around one in 10 children are subject to child labor, amounting to 160 million children (1).
These children are often forced into activities such as agriculture, child trafficking, recruitment into the armed forces, drug production, and pornography (2).
While most child labor occurs in poorer and developing countries, it can still occur in middle-income countries. In fact, more than half of children subject to child labor live in middle-income countries, such as Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, and South Africa.
However, it’s also an issue in high-income countries, such as the United States of America. In the U.S.A., there are currently 600 child labor investigations underway (3).
30 Child Labor Statistics and Facts
To give you some information about child labor worldwide, I’ve compiled a list of 30 child work statistics and facts.
Child Labor Statistics by Country
Let’s examine the current state of the child labor crisis across the globe.
- Countries with the most child labor: Pinpointing countries with the most child labor cases is challenging. Reliable studies may be outdated, while many cases go unreported. In 2016, data found that Guinea-Bissau had one of the highest cases of child labor (4). Sixty-seven-point-five percent of children between the ages of seven and 14 were subject to child labor. Another study found that Myanmar had the most cases of child labor, with approximately 1.1 million between the ages of five and 17 being subjected to it (5).
- Africa has the most cases of child labor: As a region, Africa has the most cases of child labor out of all the continents (6). A study found that about 20 percent of children are involved in child labor, which is roughly twice as high as in other regions. Most of this work takes place on family farms or in family enterprises.
- Child labor in the U.K.: Let’s take a look at another country: the United Kingdom. A 2022 study found that there were a predicted 5,468 child labor victims in the year ending December 2021 (7). Comparing year by year, this was a nine percent increase from the year before. Seventy-nine percent of these victims were boys. Boys were more likely to be criminally exploited, while female victims were more likely to have been sexually exploited.
- Child labor in the U.S.A.: In the U.S.A., the Department of Labor found a 69 percent increase in children being illegally employed (8). The Department found 3,800 children employed illegally across 835 companies, including Hyundai, Packing Sanitation Services, and Tyson Foods.
- Hours worked by children: A study I already mentioned measured child labor as anything above one hour per week. But this same study found that in most countries, children worked much more than this. For example, in Laos, the average weekly working hours for kids between seven and 14 was 34.4. In Kenya, it was 32.7, 32 for Bangladesh, 20 for El Salvador, 18.8 for Egypt, and 13.7 for Ghana.
- Working children miss school: One of the most significant effects of child labor is that they miss out on their education. Studies find that the more children work per week, the more likely they will not attend school. For example, in Pakistan, children work on average 24.9 hours a week, and 87.45 percent do not attend school. In Ukraine, children work on average three hours per week, and only 1.3 percent do not attend school. However, some countries don’t match this trend. For example, in Paraguay, children work on average 29.33 hours per week, and only 9.29 percent do not attend school.
- Child labor in South Asia: South Asia is another region with significant child labor cases. There are an estimated 30 million children who work and 50 million children who do not attend school (9). Only 16.7 million of these children can be classed as victims of ‘child labor’ due to statistical surveys and important variations. However, 10.3 million of these are between the ages of five and 14 years old. India has the highest rate at 5.8 million victims of child labor.
- Missing statistics in South Asia: While there are millions and millions of children already accounted for, there are 28 million children in South Asia (primarily girls) who are reported as neither working nor attending school. So, it is unclear what is happening here, but we can confidently conclude that they are not getting the childhood a kid deserves.
Root Causes and Risk Factors
Now that we’ve looked at some of the significant global stats regarding child labor, let’s look at what the common root causes and risk factors are.
- Poverty is a leading root cause: One of the main risk factors of child labor is poverty (10). When families can’t pay their bills on existing incomes, they will encourage their children to get a job. Often, they are promised good working conditions, good pay, and an education. But in reality, the working conditions are awful, and the pay is poor.
- COVID-19 became a risk factor: During the global pandemic of 2020, more children were at risk of becoming child labor victims. The reason is that school closures and financial security pushed more children into child labor. They were forced to work longer hours or were subject to awful working conditions. Globally, nine million children were at risk by December 2022 due to the pandemic (11).
- Boys are more vulnerable than girls: Child labor is prevalent across genders, but boys are more likely to be child labor victims. 11.2 percent of boys worldwide are child labor victims; 7.8 percent of girls are victims. In numbers, 34 million more boys are victims than girls.
- Child labor is more common in rural areas: Compared to urban areas, there are 112.7 million more rural children involved in child labor. This is three times as many children as in urban areas.
- A child’s family can be the risk factor: Seventy-two percent of all child labor between ages five and 11 occurs within families. This is typically on a family farm or within a family business.
- Unwell caregivers increase risks: Children whose caregiver experiences a sudden or ongoing illness are at higher risk of child labor.
- Migrant and refugee children are at risk: Migrant and refugee children — those displaced because of disaster or conflict — are at risk for child labor (12). In many cases, this can look like human trafficking, especially if they are torn apart from their families or have to travel via unapproved routes.
- Other risk factors to note: There are dozens of other risk factors that can increase a child’s chance of being victimized. This includes but is not limited to, family debt, lack of education, gender stereotypes, cultural practices, lack of awareness, lack of governing laws, armed conflict, and the demand for cheap labor (13).
Child Trafficking and Labor Statistics
Understanding the distinctions between forms of child exploitation is crucial. Child labor refers to employing children in ways that may obstruct their education and growth. Child slavery, a more severe form, involves ownership and control of children for exploitation.
Child trafficking entails recruiting and transporting children for exploitative work, such as in factories, sweatshops, begging, wars, and the sex industry. Below are seven key facts about child trafficking.
- Child trafficking occurs in all 50 states: Child trafficking doesn’t occur only in low-income countries. In fact, it occurs in all 50 US states.
- Twenty-seven percent of trafficking victims are children: 27 percent of trafficking victims are children (14). The majority are forced into labor via fraud, coercion, or force. This amounts to four million children (meaning there are about 10 million adult victims).
- Children are more likely to be forced into labor: Children are more likely to be trafficked into domestic services, factory work, or agricultural work rather than sex work. However, many of them are trafficked into hazardous work, which endangers their physical, social, and emotional health.
- Sixty-six percent of victims are girls: Girls are more likely to be trafficked than boys. On the whole, girls are more likely to be forced out of education, trapping them into a cycle of poverty and increasing their chances of being trafficked.
- Sexual exploitation trafficking: 99 percent of victims trafficked for sexual exploitation are women and girls.
- Victims often know the trafficker: Most of the time, trafficking victims know the trafficker (15). In many cases, this person is a family friend, family member, or even a romantic partner.
- Demographic data: Children who are from culturally and linguistically diverse communities are twice as likely to be trafficked into sexual exploitation than white children (16).
How to End Child Labor
There is no one solution to end child labor, but it is possible. I’ve compiled seven interesting facts about legal interventions and efforts to combat child labor.
- Educational opportunities can end child labor: Educational opportunities and schooling can end child labor. Teaching can educate children on the harmful effects of child labor while providing kids with a safe space away from employment. Children with a good education will have better skills and knowledge to find better jobs and to understand their rights. Furthermore, they will understand the culture of exploitation, so when they become adults, they are less likely to hire children employees. Ultimately, this breaks the cycle of child labor. For example, in China, one extra semester of school reduced child labor rates by eight percent (17).
- Supporting parent’s income: When parents have access to income support and necessary food, they are less likely to push their child into employment.
- Tighter national child labor laws: While the U.S.A. still has a child labor crisis, it is significantly better than other countries. If every country had better child labor laws that were actively enforced, child labor cases would drastically decrease.
- Providing advocates within communities: The more advocates there are in vulnerable communities, the more children will be empowered to leave their places of work. For example, if there were educated and qualified advocates within a community to detect child labor and empower families to steer clear, there would be a decrease in child labor.
- Educate yourself: It’s important to educate yourself on child labor and how it may present itself in your area. If you detect or suspect child labor, know who you can turn to in order to report the case.
- Don’t buy from stores that use child labor: Many brands will use a supply chain that involves child labor somewhere along the journey. Do your research and stop buying from brands that use child labor. You can always ask a brand for evidence that they do not use child labor. If they genuinely don’t use child labor, they should have documents and certificates to prove it.
- Better work for people of legal working age: When better opportunities exist in the labor market, families are less likely to involve their children in work. Instead, they invest in their education, ultimately breaking the cycle of child labor culture. This is because these better working opportunities for adults equate to better incomes so that families can pay their bills on one or two incomes.
Reviewing Child Labor Statistics and Facts
Shockingly, child labor is still very much an ongoing problem across the globe in both low-income and high-income countries. It is most prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia but still occurs in the United States.
Thankfully, it is not a hopeless crisis, and there is much that we can do to put an end to child labor. No matter where you are, you can educate yourself, speak up about child labor, and donate to organizations fighting to end child labor. Global March, The Child Labor Coalition, GoodWeave, and Not For Sale are worth considering when donating or volunteering.