According to the organization, millions of children work to support their families, but child labour becomes unacceptable when it is carried out by children who are too young and who should be in school. In addition, there are many children who are doing work unsuitable for anyone under 18. In the worst forms of child labour, children are exposed to health hazards and to physical danger, their development is threatened, and they are subjected to exploitation.
“We understand that many children work to support their families,” said Susan Bissell UNICEF’s global head of child protection. “However when children are forced into the most dangerous forms of labour, when they then miss school, when they are at risk and their health and well-being are impaired, this is unacceptable. Actions must be taken to address this situation, including preventing it from happening in the first place.”
UNICEF estimates that around 150 million children aged 5-14, or nearly 1 in 6 children in this age group, are involved in child labour. According to the latest estimates from the International Labour Organization, 7.4 million children in the same age group are engaged in domestic work, which is disproportionately carried out by girls.
Domestic workers are among the most exploited and abused workers for a number of reasons, including discrimination, exclusion from labour laws, isolation, and its hidden nature. Children are at even greater risk, due to their young ages, lack of awareness of their rights, separation from their family, and dependence on their employer. While not all child domestic workers suffer abuse or exploitation, children working as domestics are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, forced labour, and the worst forms of child labour, making child domestic work one of the most widespread and potentially exploitative forms of child work in the world today.
In some countries, innovative work at ending child labour is already paying off. In Gujarat, India, for example, UNICEF has partnered with the IKEA Foundation to form Adolescent Girls Networks (AGN), which train young people on issues pertaining to child rights violations, including child labour and child marriage. AGNs have been formed across all 3,450 villages in Gujarat, with around 35,000 members who advocate for the rights of children engaged in child labour. They identify other children working – in cotton fields, for example – and then persuade their parents to send them back to school. AGNs identified 61,827 out-of-school children. About 20,000 children are now back attending school.
UNICEF says the most lasting work must be carried out at the level of governments. The organization supports the ILO Convention 189 on Domestic Workers, adopted in 2011, which particularly targets women and girls in domestic service, and congratulated Uruguay, Philippines and Mauritius for being the first countries to ratify the Convention. Another 20 countries have started national dialogues on the issue of domestic work around the process of adoption of the ILO Convention.
UNICEF helps countries develop and implement comprehensive programmes to address child labour, from the legal and policy framework, to increasing government capacity, to promoting positive social change and challenging cultural norms which underpin child labour.