Child labour


Child labour occurs when children get paid to do work. Although they have always had to work in some way, child labour started to become a major problem when children started to work in factories and mines in England during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century . Many of them were very young. Factory owners forced them to work long hours and they got very little money for their work. Working conditions were very unhealthy. Factories were dirty and the air was bad. In mines children had to crawl through tunnels that were not wide enough for adults . Most children worked to help their families survive .

During the 19th century the situation of children started to improve . Most of them were able to go to school and lead a better life. In his novel “Oliver Twist” the famous English novelist, Charles Dickens, showed how factory work was ruining the lives of children in England.



Child labour today

Although many countries have laws that forbid child labour under a certain age, there are millions of children all over the world who are forced to work, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Common for children is factory work, working on farms or even prostitution . Some work as tourists guides ; others sell things on the streets or are beggars . According to the United Nations there are about 200 million child workers all over the world. Among them are about a hundred million who work in dangerous jobs. Over 22,000 children die in accidents at work every year.

Most children in the Third World work in agriculture . In Brazil, for example, children work on sugar plantations , sometimes as young as four. Others work on the streets. They polish shoes, wash cars, carry luggage or do any chore that is thinkable. The majority live in slums on the edge of big cities.

Sometimes children are forced to be prostitutes or have to serve rebel or army groups in civil wars . In Iran, thousands of children served as soldiers in the war against Iraq during the 1980s.




Causes of child labour

  • One of the major causes of child labour is poverty . Adults often earn so little that children have to work.
  • Schools in many countries are far away or expensive.
  • More and more employers see that they can make bigger profits when they employ children.
  • In Africa, many children have become orphans because their mothers died of AIDS and they have nobody to care for them. 


Bonded labour

In bonded labour families often sell their children to factory owners in order to get money or they give them to employers if they owe them money. This type of labour is very common throughout southern Asia, especially the rural parts of India and Pakistan. Such children work up to 18 hours a day and often get very little food. There is seldom a way to escape bonded labour.


Dangerous jobs

Half the child labourers around the world work in jobs that are considered to be dangerous. Among them are

  • working with dangerous chemicals in factories
  • working in mines
  • prostitution
  • selling drugs
  • fighting in conflict areas
  • working on plantations in hot climates



Rights of children

The International Labour Organization has been fighting child labour for many decades . The United Nations declared that children must be protected from dangerous work. Over the past years many agreements , which protect the rights of children, have been signed .

The ILO has set 15 as the lowest age for legal employment . Although many countries have already applied this law , some countries in the Third World do not control it enough.


What needs to be done

  • Education is the key to ending child labour. If children go to schools they are less likely to work. A better education also means a better chance of getting a good job later on.
  • Women must get better jobs so that they can escape poverty and their children don’t have to work.
  • Replace child workers with adults .
  • Consumers can help by refusing to buy products made by children. Sometimes there is a label on clothes or other items that indicate children are not involved in manufacturing them.


Related Topics



  • accident = a situation in which someone is hurt
  • according to = as said by …
  • adult = grown-up
  • agreement = when two people or groups of people promise to do something
  • agriculture = farming
  • although = while
  • apply = use, put to work
  • beggar = someone who lives by asking people for food and money
  • care for = look after
  • cause = reason
  • century = a hundred years
  • certain = special
  • chore = job
  • civil war = war in which two groups in a country fight against each other
  • common = usual, normal
  • community = public
  • consider = people think that
  • consumer = a person who buys something in a shop
  • crawl = move along the ground with your hands or knees
  • decade = ten years
  • edge = border
  • employ = to give work
  • employer = a person who gives others work
  • employment = work
  • escape = get away from
  • especially = above all
  • factory = building in which products are made
  • forbid = not allow
  • force = to make someone do something
  • guide = a person who shows you things
  • improve = to get better
  • indicate = show
  • Industrial Revolution = time during the 18th and 19th centuries when machines were invented and the first factories were built
  • International Labour Organization = a part of the United Nations that cares for the rights of workers around the world
  • involve = here: work in
  • item = product
  • key = solution, answer
  • label = tag, sign, sticker
  • labour = work
  • law = the rules of a country
  • legal = allowed by the law
  • less likely = probably will not
  • luggage = suitcases
  • major = very big, important
  • majority = most of them
  • manufacture = produce
  • mine = a deep hole in the ground from which people remove minerals like coal, copper etc..
  • novel = a long story with characters that are not real
  • occur = happen
  • orphan = a child whose parents are dead
  • owe = if you have borrowed money from someone and have to give it back
  • owner = a person who has or possesses something
  • plantation = a large area of land on which crops are grown
  • polish = to make something shine
  • poverty = being poor
  • profit = income , money
  • prostitution = someone, especially a woman or girl who earns money by having sex with people
  • protect = defend, guard
  • quarry = to dig sand or stone out of the earth
  • rebel = people who fight against the government
  • replace = to take the place of
  • retail trade = to sell products to final customers
  • right = something that you are officially allowed to do
  • ruin = destroy
  • rural = in the countryside
  • seldom = not often
  • serve = work for
  • sign = to put your name on a document
  • soldier = member of an army in a country
  • storage = to put something in a place so that it cannot be moved
  • survive = to live on
  • throughout = in all of
  • wholesale trade = to sell products to other businesses
  • working conditions = the quality of your workplace