National Consumers League

Uplifting and discouraging: the 2010 ILO Report on the Worst Forms of Child Labor


By Elizabeth Gardner, NCL public policy intern The child labor movement seems to constantly be scrambling to gather more data about the size and scope of the child labor problem and the trends within the employment of children. While it’s true that graphs, charts, and data only get you so far, they are great tools to be able to wield to demonstrate the problem we’re up against. The ILO recently published its 2010 report on child labor—Accelerating Action Against Child Labour. Both uplifting and discouraging, it has already begun to inform discussions about child labor. The good news is that the worst forms of child labor have continued to decrease since the last ILO report, which came out in 2006. Child labor among children under 15 has dropped by 10 percent. And there have also been some big victories for girls: investigators found that there was a 15 percent drop in female child laborers. There is still a lot of reason for concern though, for it’s hard to tell if these gains represent forward progress or if these children have just moved to other areas of child labor—like domestic service which are harder to track. Despite possible reductions in child labor there are still 215 million children laboring away, and 115 million of those kids are working in hazardous conditions. As in previous years, agriculture continues to be the sector where the most children are still working—nearly seven in ten child laborers are in agriculture. This is true abroad—from Asia to Africa. And it is true at home. Here in the United States, 12-year-olds and even younger children are still legally working long hours in the fields, for low wages, and under dangerous conditions. Child labor tends to propagate itself, depriving children of an education and continuing the cycle of poverty. That’s why alongside efforts to eliminate child labor, campaigns like the Global Campaign for Education are so important; they seek to address some of the root causes of child labor: the lack of access to basic education for more than 70 million children. The new ILO report helps us direct our attention and on-the-ground efforts. For it’s these background factors of poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to education that we can’t ignore as we push to eliminate child labor at home and abroad.