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What is child labor?

Rather than spending the day in school, many young children polish shoes to earn extra income for their families.
Rather than spending the day in school, many young children polish shoes to earn extra income for their families.


  • Working from 5 AM to 9 PM, forced to act like an adult, when you may be as young as five
  • Missing school constantly because you are forced to work
  • Fending off adults twice your size to find enough garbage to sell for your family’s dinner
  • Sitting inside a dark carpet factory all day weaving rugs

According to UNICEF, an estimated 246 million children worldwide are currently employed in activities that are hazardous, excessive or exploitative.

What, exactly, is child labor?
Child labor is any labor that interferes with a child’s education, or is harmful to a child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

Working children have little to no time to attend school, play sports, or hang out with friends. Instead, they spend long hours working in hazardous and unhealthy environments. They are also denied many of their fundamental rights, such as education, health care, and a safe and healthy environment.

What children are most at risk?
Children living in poverty
While most families expect their children to contribute to family welfare in a variety of ways, families living in poverty depend much more upon their children for actual income. Many children are sold into bonded labor to pay off debts owed by their parents. Read a story…

Street children
Children without families must fend for themselves. They often fall victim to exploitation by child traffickers and drug traffickers. Read a story...

Children affected by HIV/AIDS
With more than 10 per cent of children in some countries orphaned, extended families, communities and governments are stretched beyond their capacity to care for them (UNICEF). Children often have no option but to find employment to support themselves and their siblings.

Although much progress has been made in this area, many cultures still view females as domestic laborers. Many girls who do attend school are subject to sexual harassment and prejudice and are either kept from school or drop out and end up in exploitative labor.

Children living in areas of war or civil unrest
Children living in political and civil unrest are often forced into roles as child soldiers.

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