Less work, more play

Combating Child Labour: A Review of Policies
OECD Observer

Rachid is the first in line to apply for work when the factory comes to town. He is hired, along with a few of his friends. So far so good.

The hours would be long, but the pay seems okay compared with the odd jobs he has been picking up around the city. And as this is a large well-known firm, the job should be a secure one. The trouble is, Rachid is only 11 years old.

Employing children is not uncommon practice in many developing countries and may even have local, cultural backing. Economic growth may eventually provide the social, political and institutional means needed to reduce the incidence of child labour in developing countries. But if growth and investment (including foreign investment) are too reliant on poor labour practices, these may in fact hold back rather than spur development, and so prolong the problem. Early action can be taken. Combating Child Labour reviews the effectiveness of policies that have been implemented to combat this problem, while at the same time securing the development prospects of the countries concerned.

Child labour is not easy to measure. Most national labour force surveys do not collect information for persons under 15 on the assumption that children are not in the labour force. Yet, according to ILO estimates, more than 12% of the world’s children aged 5-9 are at work. The figure rises to 23% for children aged 10-14, with almost 245 million children subject to child labour. Of these, about 179 million are subject to the worst forms of employment, such as slavery, forced or bonded labour, hazardous work, prostitution and other illicit activities carried out under exploitative conditions.

The causes of child labour are complex, and prohibiting it will not work by itself. In fact, if child labour is outlawed without providing children with a viable alternative, including education, the risk is that criminal activity such as child trafficking will increase. The scores of institutions that are working to eradicate the exploitation of under-age workers recognise that the worst abuses of children are, in fact, already illegal in many countries. The stickler is the inseparable dynamics between child labour and economic development. For many families, especially in Africa and Asia, children’s earnings put food on the family table.

Advances are being made. Programmes like Progresa in Mexico or Bolsa Scola in Brazil which provide support to families that send their children to school, seem to work well, and at a relatively low cost. Such programmes are based on incentives, instead of sanctions, and they provide a good opportunity to create a virtuous cycle between higher school attendance, lower child labour and better economic development.

The growing public pressure for good corporate ethics has CEOs self-consciously defending their labour practices as regulators peek over their shoulders. For instance, the Rugmark Foundation has helped to clean up the carpet industry in India, Nepal and Pakistan. Manufacturers earn the Rugmark certification by agreeing not to employ children under 14, to pay adults the minimum wage, to register all of their production’s looms, and to allow access to the looms for unannounced inspections. It seems to be working. Eight years ago, one illegal child worker was found in every five inspections, and today the proportion is one in nineteen.

Combating Child Labour also calls for a stronger fight against child trafficking and prostitution. It requires international cooperation in the judiciary field and strong political will at all levels to ensure that children like Rachid can look forward to a better future.

©OECD Observer No 239, September 2003 




Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • When someone asks me to describe an ideal girl, in my head, she is a person who is physically and mentally independent, brave to speak her mind, treated with respect just like she treats others, and inspiring to herself and others. But I know that the reality is still so much different. By Alda, 18, on International Day of the Girl. Read more.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017