Social Protection Resource Centre

World Day Against Child Labor 12th June 2022

The term “child labor” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that:

  • is mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or
  • interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work

The participation of children or adolescents above the minimum age for admission to employment in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling, is generally regarded as being something positive. This includes activities such as assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. The concept of child labor varies from country to country depending on various aspects e.g., minimum age for work, type of work, conditions under which work is performed etc. 

The worst forms of child labor involve children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses – often at a very early age. Although there are different forms of child labor but for now the main concern is to eliminate child labor especially its worst forms. Child labor remains unacceptably common in the world today. At the start of 2020, 160 million children – 63 million girls and 97 million boys – were engaged in child labor, or one in ten children worldwide. Recent history provides cause for concern. In the past four years, for the first time since 2000, the world did not make progress in reducing child labor: during that period, the absolute number of children in child labor increased by almost 8 million, while the proportion of children in child labor remained unchanged owing to population growth. Recent national surveys from seven South Asian countries estimate 30 million children in employment, and almost 17 million in child labor. There are 16.7 million (5–17 years) children in child labor in South Asia, according to conservative estimates, and of these 10.3 million are in the (5–14) year age range.

In collaboration with ILO, the Federal Bureau of Statistics conducted a National Survey on Child Labor in 1996 which states that total number of children of age 5-14 was 40 million and they represent close to one-third (30%) of the total population at that time. Out of these children, 3.3 million (8.3%) were taking part in financial activities. In these working children, 73% were male members while 27% of these were females. According to new finding of joint report of ILO and Understanding Children Work (UCW), in Pakistan the share in the 10-17 years age group in child labor is 12%, or about 3.4 million in absolute terms based on the calculations of LFS 2010-11. The largest share of children in employment in Pakistan is found in unpaid family work in the agriculture sector. More than three-fourths of children aged 10-14 years in employment are found in the agriculture sector (76.1 %). Pakistan did not have any national level survey on child labor other than 1996 which shows very old estimates. For current estimates, UNICEF survey on child labor is under pipeline which covers whole Pakistan. 

Poverty is one of the root cause behind child labor or sometimes to overcome the adverse effects of any natural or economic shock children are involved in child labor. It is also found that large family size and migration towards urban areas are also behind child labor. Although Pakistan ratified many international conventions against child labor but child labor due to many socio-economic reasons is still exists in the country.

Social protection programs reduce the poverty and vulnerability of families and hence it might indirectly decrease child labor. It calls for investments into social safety nets and programs to protect children from being forced into child labor. To exterminate child labor, it is necessary to address issues and conditions that derives child labor. It is mandatory for every state/government to protect children. Every child, regardless of their age, race, gender, wealth, or birthplace, has rights. Under the obligation of UNCRC, the Government of Pakistan has constituted the National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC). The Commission has a central mandate in accordance with international obligations and for matters related to the promotion, protection, and fulfillment of child rights according to NCRC Act 2017.

In Pakistan various cash transfer programs are implemented such as “EHSAAS” to eradicate poverty which is main cause behind child labor in Pakistan. As these programs are limited in scope and it might be possible that a huge proportion is missing. To prevent and eradicate child labor, expanding social protection to cover all children is vital. Social protection can improve the income-generating capacities of parents and enable them to engage in higher-risk, higher-return activities. By providing a steady, predictable source of income, social protection enables households to avoid harmful coping strategies in the face of economic shocks, such as pulling children out of school, cutting spending on food, or selling productive assets. Reducing child labor requires cash support to be integrated within a broader set of interventions, including improved access to good-quality education and child protection services. Moreover, it is important that the impacts of social protection programs on child labor are closely monitored to evaluate the efficacy of the programs.