Universal Social Protection to End Child Labor

The 2022 theme of the World Day Against Child Labor calls for increased investment in social protection systems and schemes to establish solid social protection floors and protect children from child labor.

While significant progress has been made in reducing child labor over the last two decades, progress has slowed over time, and it has even stalled during the period 2016-2020. Today, 160 million children still engaged in child labor – some as young as 5.

Government social protection systems are essential to fight poverty and vulnerability, and eradicate and prevent child labor. Social protection is both a human right and a potent policy tool to prevent families from resorting to child labor in times of crisis. However, as of 2020 and before the COVID-19 crisis took hold, only 46.9% of the global population were effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit while the remaining 53.1% – as many as 4.1 billion people – were left wholly unprotected. Coverage for children is even lower. Nearly three quarters of children, 1.5 billion, lacked social protection.

Significant progress towards ending child labor requires increased investment in universal social protection systems, as part of an integrated and comprehensive approach to tackle the problem.

Children around the world are routinely engaged in paid and unpaid forms of work that are not harmful to them. However, they are classified as child laborers when they are either too young to work, or are involved in hazardous activities that may compromise their physical, mental, social or educational development. In the least developed countries, slightly more than one in four children (ages 5 to 17) are engaged in labor that is considered detrimental to their health and development.

Africa, Asia and the Pacific

Africa ranks highest among regions both in the percentage of children in child labor — one-fifth — and the absolute number of children in child labor — 72 million. Asia and the Pacific ranks second highest in both these measures — 7% of all children and 62 million in absolute terms are in child labor in this region.

The Africa and the Asia and the Pacific regions together account for almost nine out of every ten children in child labor worldwide. The remaining child labor population is divided among the Americas (11 million), Europe and Central Asia (6 million), and the Arab States (1 million). In terms of incidence, 5% of children are in child labor in the Americas, 4% in Europe and Central Asia, and 3% in the Arab States.

While the percentage of children in child labor is highest in low-income countries, their numbers are actually greater in middle-income countries. 9% of all children in lower-middle-income countries, and 7% of all children in upper-middle-income countries, are in child labor. Statistics on the absolute number of children in child labor in each national income grouping indicate that 84 million children in child labor, accounting for 56% of all those in child labor, actually live in middle-income countries, and an additional 2 million live in high-income countries.

Source: United Nations, press release and platform.