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  • Ind Psychiatry J
  • v.27(1); Jan-Jun 2018

Challenges and perspectives of child labor

Amir radfar.

College of Graduate Health Studies, A.T. Still University, Mesa, Arizona, USA

Seyed Ahmad Ahmadi Asgharzadeh

1 Faculty of Medicine, Babol University of Medical Sciences, Babol, Iran

Fernando Quesada

2 Department of Medicine, Universidad de El Salvador, San Salvador, El Salvador

Irina Filip

3 Department of Psychiatry, Kaiser Permanente, Fontana, California, USA

Child labor is one of the oldest problems in our society and still an ongoing issue. During the time, child labor evolved from working in agriculture or small handicraft workshops to being forced into work in factories in the urban setting as a result of the industrial revolution. Children were very profitable assets since their pay was very low, were less likely to strike, and were easy to be manipulated. Socioeconomic disparities and lack of access to education are among others contributing to the child labor. Religious and cultural beliefs can be misguiding and concealing in delineating the limits of child labor. Child labor prevents physical, intellectual, and emotional development of children. To date, there is no international agreement to fully enforced child labor. This public health issue demands a multidisciplinary approach from the education of children and their families to development of comprehensive child labor laws and regulations.


Child labor is an old problem well rooted in human history. Children were exploited to various extents during different periods of time. The problem was common in poor and developing countries. In the 1800's, child labor was part of economic life and industrial growth. Children less than 14 years old worked in agriculture, factories, mining, and as street vendors.[ 1 ] Children from poor families were expected to participate to the family income, and sometimes they worked in dangerous conditions in 12-hour shifts.[ 1 ]

In the 1900's, in England, more than a quarter of poor families lost their children to diseases and death, endangering their extra financial support.[ 1 ] Boys worked in glass factories in high heat in three shifts because the furnaces were kept fired all the time to increase productivity, while girls were forced into prostitution. In 1910, it was estimated that more than two million children in the United States were working.[ 1 ]

With the increase of education, economy, and the emergence of labor laws, child labor decreased. However, child labor is still a widespread problem in many parts of the world in developed and developing countries. With the development of agriculture, children were again forced to be employed mostly by the families rather than factories. The main cause of child labor is the lack of schools and poverty.[ 2 ]

Per International Labor Organization (ILO, 2002), in the world, there are 211 million children laborers, 73 million under 10 years of age, 126 million children work in the worst forms of child labor, and more than 8 million are kept as slaves for domestic work, in trafficking, armed conflict, prostitution, and pornography. More than 20,000 children die yearly due to work-related accidents. Nearly, one-third of the world's children work in Africa.[ 3 ] Countries such as India have made efforts to tackle the worst forms of child labor. Despite this, 56.4% of children aged 5–14 work in agriculture and 33.1% work in industry.[ 4 ] Indian children are forced into labor to pay family debt. They work sometimes in hazardous environments, being forced into commercial sexual exploitation, human trafficking, or forcibly recruited or kidnapped to be part of terrorist groups.[ 4 ]

Child labor is morally and ethically unacceptable. United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) was the first international body that signed in 1989 the Convention on the Rights of the Children. It is for the first time in history when children are seen as humans with rights rather than economic assets of their parents. Child labor was defined as labor that harms the health of the children and deprives them of education rights. This law does not exclude children that work for their families.


Child labor has many facets from the ethical point of view. Autonomy, beneficence, justice, nonmaleficence, privacy, and veracity are endangered during child labor.[ 5 ] Utilitarianists would support the idea of child labor as long as they are the sole providers for the family and without their income, the family would not survive and as long as the labor is voluntarily provided. The ends justify the means. Forced child labor is unethical because it is against the autonomy of the children. The consent of the working child is mostly manipulated by the parents. To give consent, a child needs to understand the situation, the consequences, and voluntarily agree to work. Children of young age, who have a less than fully competent capacity, can assent to an action by getting involved in the decision-making process. Children fall easy victims to unfair job conditions, and they do not have the power to stand-up against mistreatments.[ 6 ] The maleficence of this act has long-term physical, psychological, behavioral, and societal consequences. Even if they are lacking the competency of making informed decisions, they are considered individuals with autonomy that should be protected and safeguarded.[ 6 ]

Child labor is more common in developing countries where more than 90% of children live.[ 3 ] Child labor in developing countries affects 211 million children.[ 3 ] The continent with the highest child employment rate is Asia with 61%, followed by Africa and Latin America. Nearly 41% of the children in Africa are below 14 years old, followed by Asia with 22% and Latin America 17%.[ 3 ] India has made progress in reducing the child labor. However, more than 4 million children in India between 5 and 14 years old work more than 6 hours a day, while about 2 million children aged 5–14 work 3–6 months in a year.[ 4 ]


Cultural beliefs have an important role in encouraging child labor. In developing countries, people believe that work has a constructive effect on character building and increases skill development in children. There is a tradition in these families, where children follow the parents' footsteps and learn the job from an early age. Some cultural beliefs may contribute to the misguided concept that a girl's education is not as important as a boy's education, and therefore, girls are pushed into child labor as providers of domestic services.[ 7 ] In India, not putting a child to work means the family would not make enough income to sustain their living. Sociocultural aspects such as the cast system, discrimination, and cultural biases against girls contribute to child labor.[ 4 ]


It is generally accepted that parents have the fundamental right to educate and raise their children. Parents almost always try to act in the child's best interest at the best of their knowledge and beliefs. In doing so, they are reasonably motivated by their intellectual growth, social development, and at times by spiritual salvation. Oftentimes, parents seek guidance in religion to shape the upbringing of their children and to enhance their progress. Hard work is among others, an important religious value to instill from a young age.

Krolikowski found that Christian children were the least likely to work, while Muslim children, children with no religion, and children affiliated with a traditional African religion were more likely to work than Christians.[ 8 ] The 40% higher incidence of child labor among Indian Muslims compared with Indian Hindus is due perhaps to the impoverishment of Muslim community.[ 4 ] Amish people's life is also regulated by religious values. They believe that work and faith bring people closer to God.[ 9 ] Amish children are initiated from childhood into apprenticeship to learn the trade, and beyond eighth grade, they have to provide like an adult for the community. Education of children beyond eighth grade is considered a threat to the community values. The U. S. labor laws forbid children less than 16 years of age to work in hazardous places such as sawmill or woodworking. However, in 2004 an exception was made by the United States Department of Labor, who approved an amendment that allows Amish children between 14 and 18 years old to work.[ 10 ]


Child labor is rooted in poverty, income insecurity, social injustice, lack of public services, and lack of political will.[ 7 ] Working children are deprived from a proper physical and mental development. The millennium development goals (MDGs), issued in 2001 to implement the Millennium Declaration, set up commitments for poverty reduction, education, and women's empowerment. Persistence of poverty is the major cause of labor. However, child labor also causes poverty because it deprives the children from education and from a normal physical and mental development hampering a prosperous life as adults. The first MDG in addressing poverty is the elimination of child labor.[ 11 ]

The International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) was created by ILO in 1992 to progressively eliminate child labor. The priority addresses the worst forms of child labor such as slavery, prostitution, drug trafficking, and recruitment of children in armed conflicts.[ 12 ] IPEC is working with stakeholders from many countries to increase strengths and promote the fight against child labor. IPEC engage with multiple organizations, international and governmental bodies, community-based organizations, religious groups, private plural form businesses, children and their families.

Policy reform was promoted through country-based programs. The capacity building of institutions has been increased to better understand the obstacles and increase the ability of obtaining sustainable measures. These measures were meant to decrease child labor and bring children back in schools. In all these processes, statistical data were collected at the worldwide level, methodologies were set in place, and guidelines were created.

The Child Labor Platform was created as a business-led initiative by ILO in 2012, to identify the obstacles of the implementation of ILO conventions at the community level and to come up with solutions. This platform is a win-win situation for all parties involved: stakeholders as well children and their families. This platform offers training, research, and specialized tools to member companies, so they can carry out activities against child labor. Eliminating child labor is part of the corporates' social responsibility in line with their values and is what the society expects from them. This platform provides information how to get involved and how to find businesses that work collaboratively with the communities to solve the problem. Training and knowledge is a real value added for companies.[ 12 ] The Indian Government implemented a national project deemed to assist population to eradicate child labor, and set in place enforcements of criminal and labor law.[ 4 ]


Despite all these international and national measures against child labor, there are arguments in favor of child labor. Some argue that poor families would be even poorer without the supplemental financial contribution of children. Lack of money will deprive them of the basic needs of food and shelter which will decrease their survival rate. In addition, an increase in poverty would make children even more susceptible to exploitation.

The supporters of these ideas argue that the benefit of creating a safe workplace and allowing children to work is helpful in certain situations. They also emphasize that child work is not child labor as long as it does not interfere with schooling and children have safe workplace conditions with a limited number of hours per day.[ 13 ]


The stakeholders most directly affected are the children and their families. Children are working at the expense of their education and normal mental development. Education is important not only for the intellectual development but also for the empowerment and acquisition of new skills for adult life. The health of children is endangered by work in hazardous conditions, abuse, exhaustion, malnutrition, or exposure to toxic materials. The psychological harm leads to behavioral problems later on in life.[ 14 ]

Despite the implementation of laws and measurements at the international level, child labor still persists, and it is caused by the same factors as 100 years ago. There is a need to address poverty and access to education. To date, there is no international agreement to define child labor. Every country has different laws and regulations regarding the minimum age for starting working based on the type of labor. The lack of international consensus on child labor makes the limits of child labor very unclear.[ 15 ]

Therefore, it is mandatory to create international policies that adopt a holistic approach to free quality education for all children, including labor children from poor families. Education should be continued beyond the primary school level and should be done in a formal setting. Studies show that nonformal education is a necessary but not a sufficient prerequisite for permanently withdrawing children from work.[ 15 ] The public educational system should be expanded to accommodate laborer children who still do not have access to school. More schools should be built, more teachers should be trained, and more educational materials should be available. A special attention should be given to children living in exceptional geographical conditions and mobility should be provided at the cost of the community. Children who dropped out of school should receive adequate guidance and support, and a smooth reentry should be facilitated. The development of schools in the rural areas would decrease the load of children in urban schools. This will allow parents to accommodate children's needs without having to migrate in big cities.

Another phenomenon that should be addressed is the social exclusion. Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor come from the lowest strata of the society. International Labor Organization launched a project on Indigen and tribal people, who are the most targeted by social exclusion. This project promotes their rights and encourages building capacity among their community.[ 15 ] Proper enforcement of child labor policies and the focus on education can break the cycle of poverty that drives the children into labor.

Child labor is a public health issue with negative outcomes that demands special attention. A multidisciplinary approach is needed to tackle child labor issues. Per ILO, poverty is a major single cause behind child labor. Lack of affordable schools and affordable education is another major factor to force children to work. Certain cultural beliefs rationalize this practice and encourage child labor as character building and skill development for children. Some cultural traditions encourage child labor as footsteps to their parents' jobs. Socioeconomic disparities, poor governance, and poor implementation of international agreements are among major causes of child labor. Macroeconomic factors also encourage child labor by the growth of low pay informal economy. Child labor prevents the normal well-being including physical, intellectual, and emotional psychosocial development of children. This public health issue cannot be eliminated by only enforcement of child labor laws and regulations. Any comprehensive policies should engulf a holistic approach on the education of children and their families, investment in early childhood development programs, establishing public education task forces in rural areas, implementing policies with focus on increasing adult wages, and discouraging consumers to buy products made by forced child labor. As such, ethical practice requires protection of all rights of children and protective policies and procedures which support the provisions of ILO's standards.

Financial support and sponsorship

Conflicts of interest.

There are no conflicts of interest.


The authors wish to thank the University Writing Center at A.T. Still University for assistance with this manuscript.

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Article Contents

Introduction, methodology.

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Child labor and health: a systematic literature review of the impacts of child labor on child’s health in low- and middle-income countries

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Abdalla Ibrahim, Salma M Abdalla, Mohammed Jafer, Jihad Abdelgadir, Nanne de Vries, Child labor and health: a systematic literature review of the impacts of child labor on child’s health in low- and middle-income countries, Journal of Public Health , Volume 41, Issue 1, March 2019, Pages 18–26, https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fdy018

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To summarize current evidence on the impacts of child labor on physical and mental health.

We searched PubMed and ScienceDirect for studies that included participants aged 18 years or less, conducted in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), and reported quantitative data. Two independent reviewers conducted data extraction and assessment of study quality.

A total of 25 studies were identified, the majority of which were cross-sectional. Child labor was found to be associated with a number of adverse health outcomes, including but not limited to poor growth, malnutrition, higher incidence of infectious and system-specific diseases, behavioral and emotional disorders, and decreased coping efficacy. Quality of included studies was rated as fair to good.

Child labor remains a major public health concern in LMICs, being associated with adverse physical and mental health outcomes. Current efforts against child labor need to be revisited, at least in LMICs. Further studies following a longitudinal design, and using common methods to assess the health impact of child labor in different country contexts would inform policy making.

For decades, child labor has been an important global issue associated with inadequate educational opportunities, poverty and gender inequality. 1 Not all types of work carried out by children are considered child labor. Engagement of children or adolescents in work with no influence on their health and schooling is usually regarded positive. The International Labor Organization (ILO) describes child labor as ‘work that deprives children of their childhood, potential and dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development’. 2 This definition includes types of work that are mentally, physically, socially or morally harmful to children; or disrupts schooling.

The topic gained scientific attention with the industrial revolution. Research conducted in the UK, because of adverse outcomes in children, resulted in acts for child labor in 18 02. 3 Many countries followed the UK, in recognition of the associated health risks. The ILO took its first stance in 1973 by setting the minimum age for work. 4 Nevertheless, the ILO and other international organizations that target the issue failed to achieve goals. Child labor was part of the Millennium Development Goals, adopted by 191 nations in 20 00 5 to be achieved by 2015. Subsequently, child labor was included in the Sustainable Development Goals, 6 which explicitly calls for eradication of child labor by 2030.

Despite the reported decline in child labor from 1995 to 2000, it remains a major concern. In 2016, it was estimated that ~150 million children under the age of 14 are engaged in labor worldwide, with most of them working under circumstances that denies them a playful childhood and jeopardize their health. 7 Most working children are 11–14 years, but around 60 million are 5–11 years old. 7 There are no exact numbers of the distribution of child labor globally; however, available statistics show that 96% of child workers are in Africa, Asia and Latin America. 1

Research into the impacts of child labor suggests several associations between child labor and adverse health outcomes. Parker 1 reported that child labor is associated with certain exposures like silica in industries, and HIV infection in prostitution. Additionally, as child labor is associated with maternal illiteracy and poverty, children who work are more susceptible to malnutrition, 1 which predisposes them to various diseases.

A meta-analysis on the topic was published in 20 07. 8 However, authors reported only an association of child labor with higher mortality and morbidity than in the general population, without reporting individual outcome specific effects. 8 Another meta-analysis investigated the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including child labor, on health. They reported that ACEs are risk factors for many adverse health outcomes. 9

To our knowledge, this is the first systematic review that attempts to summarize current evidence on the impacts of child labor on both physical and mental health, based on specific outcomes. We review the most recent evidence on the health impacts of child labor in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) according to the World Bank classification. We provide an informative summary of current studies of the impacts of child labor, and reflect upon the progress of anti-child labor policies and laws.

Search strategy

We searched PubMed and ScienceDirect databases. Search was restricted to publications from year 1997 onwards. Only studies written in English were considered. Our search algorithm was [(‘child labor’ OR ‘child labor’ OR ‘working children’ OR ‘occupational health’ OR ‘Adolescent work’ OR ‘working adolescents’) AND (Health OR medical)]. The first third of the algorithm was assigned to titles/abstracts to ensure relevance of the studies retrieved, while the rest of the terms were not. On PubMed, we added […AND (poverty OR ‘low income’ OR ‘developing countries’)] to increase the specificity of results; otherwise, the search results were ~60 times more, with the majority of studies being irrelevant.

Study selection

Studies that met the following criteria were considered eligible: sample age 18 years or less; study was conducted in LMICs; and quantitative data was reported.

Two authors reviewed the titles obtained, a.o. to exclude studies related to ‘medical child labor’ as in childbirth. Abstracts of papers retained were reviewed, and subsequently full studies were assessed for inclusion criteria. Two authors assessed the quality of studies using Downs and Black tool for quality assessment. 10 The tool includes 27 items, yet not all items fit every study. In such cases, we used only relevant items. Total score was the number of items positively evaluated. Studies were ranked accordingly (poor, fair, good) (Table 1 ).

Characteristics of studies included

* The quality is based on the percentage of Downs and Black 10 tool, < 50% = poor, 50–75% = fair, > 75% = good.

** BMI, body mass index.

*** HIV, human immunodeficiency virus; HBV, hepatitis B virus; HCV, hepatitis C virus.

Data extraction and management

Two authors extracted the data using a standardized data extraction form. It included focus of study (i.e. physical and/or mental health), exposure (type of child labor), country of study, age group, gender, study design, reported measures (independent variables) and outcome measures (Table 1 ). The extraction form was piloted to ensure standardization of data collection. A third author then reviewed extracted data. Disagreements were solved by discussion.

Search results

A flow diagram (Fig. 1 ) shows the studies selection process. We retrieved 1050 studies on PubMed and 833 studies on Science Direct, with no duplicates in the search results. We also retrieved 23 studies through screening of the references, following the screening by title of retrieved studies. By reviewing title and abstract, 1879 studies were excluded. After full assessment of the remaining studies, 25 were included.

Study selection process.

Study selection process.

Characteristics of included studies

Among the included studies ten documented only prevalence estimates of physical diseases, six documented mental and psychosocial health including abuse, and nine reported the prevalence of both mental and physical health impacts (Table 1 ). In total, 24 studies were conducted in one country; one study included data from the Living Standard Measurement Study of 83 LMIC. 8

In total, 12 studies compared outcomes between working children and a control group (Table 1 ). Concerning physical health, many studies reported the prevalence of general symptoms (fever, cough and stunting) or diseases (malnutrition, anemia and infectious diseases). Alternatively, some studies documented prevalence of illnesses or symptoms hypothesized to be associated with child labor (Table 1 ). The majority of studies focusing on physical health conducted clinical examination or collected blood samples.

Concerning mental and psychosocial health, the outcomes documented included abuse with its different forms, coping efficacy, emotional disturbances, mood and anxiety disorders. The outcomes were measured based on self-reporting and using validated measures, for example, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), in local languages.

The majority of studies were ranked as of ‘good quality’, with seven ranked ‘fair’ and one ranked ‘poor’ (Table 1 ). The majority of them also had mixed-gender samples, with only one study restricted to females. 24 In addition, valid measures were used in most studies (Table 1 ). Most studies did not examine the differences between genders.

Child labor and physical health

Fifteen studies examined physical health effects of child labor, including nutritional status, physical growth, work-related illnesses/symptoms, musculoskeletal pain, HIV infection, systematic symptoms, infectious diseases, tuberculosis and eyestrain. Eight studies measured physical health effects through clinical examination or blood samples, in addition to self-reported questionnaires. All studies in which a comparison group was used reported higher prevalence of physical diseases in the working children group.

Two studies were concerned with physical growth and development. A study conducted in Pakistan, 11 reported that child labor is associated with wasting, stunting and chronic malnutrition. A similar study conducted in India compared physical growth and genital development between working and non-working children and reported that child labor is associated with lower BMI, shorter stature and delayed genital development in working boys, while no significant differences were found among females. 12

Concerning work-related illnesses and injuries, a study conducted in Bangladesh reported that there is a statistically significant positive association between child labor and the probability to report any injury or illness, tiredness/exhaustion, body injury and other health problems. Number of hours worked and the probability of reporting injury and illness were positively correlated. Younger children were more likely to suffer from backaches and other health problems (infection, burns and lung diseases), while probability of reporting tiredness/exhaustion was greater in the oldest age group. Furthermore, the frequency of reporting any injury or illness increases with the number of hours worked, with significant variation across employment sectors. 13 A study in Iran reported that industrial workrooms were the most common place for injury (58.2%). Falling from heights or in horizontal surface was the most common mechanism of injury (44%). None of the patients was using a preventive device at the time of injury. Cuts (49.6%) were the most commonly reported injuries. 14

Other studies that investigated the prevalence of general symptoms in working children in Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Indonesia reported that child labor is negatively associated with health. 15 – 19 Watery eyes, chronic cough and diarrhea were common findings, in addition to history of a major injury (permanent loss of an organ, hearing loss, bone fractures, permanent disability). 20 One study, conducted in India reported that working children suffered from anemia, gastrointestinal tract infections, vitamin deficiencies, respiratory tract infections, skin diseases and high prevalence of malnutrition. 21 Another study—of poor quality—in India reported that child labor was associated with higher incidence of infectious diseases compared to non-working children. 22

Only a few studies focused on specific diseases. A study in Brazil compared the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain between working and non-working children. Authors reported that the prevalence of pain in the neck, knee, wrist or hands, and upper back exceeded 15%. Workers in manufacturing had a significantly increased risk for musculoskeletal pain and back pain, while child workers in domestic services had 17% more musculoskeletal pain and 23% more back pain than non-workers. Awkward posture and heavy physical work were associated with musculoskeletal pain, while monotonous work, awkward posture and noise were associated with back pain. 23 A study in Nicaragua, which focused on children working in agriculture, reported that child labor in agriculture poses a serious threat to children’s health; specifically, acute pesticides poisoning. 24

A study conducted in India reported that the prevalence of eyestrain in child laborers was 25.9%, which was significantly more than the 12.4% prevalence in a comparison group. Prevalence was higher in boys and those who work more than 4 h daily. 25 Another study conducted in India documented that the difference between working and non-working children in the same area in respiratory morbidities (TB, hilar gland enlargement/calcification) was statistically significant. 26

A study in Iran explored the prevalence of viral infections (HIV, HCV and HBV) in working children. 27 The study reported that the prevalence among working street children was much higher than in general population. The 4.5% of children were HIV positive, 1.7% were hepatitis B positive and 2.6% hepatitis C positive. The likelihood of being HIV positive among working children of Tehran was increased by factors like having experience in trading sex, having parents who used drugs or parents infected with HCV.

Lastly, one study was a meta-analysis conducted on data of working children in 83 LMIC documented that child labor is significantly and positively related to adolescent mortality, to a population’s nutrition level, and to the presence of infectious diseases. 8

Child labor and mental health

Overall, all studies included, except one, 28 reported that child labor is associated with higher prevalence of mental and/or behavioral disorders. In addition, all studies concluded that child labor is associated with one or more forms of abuse.

A study conducted in Jordan reported a significant difference in the level of coping efficacy and psychosocial health between working non-schooled children, working school children and non-working school children. Non-working school children had a better performance on the SDQ scale. Coping efficacy of working non-schooled children was lower than that of the other groups. 29

A study conducted in Pakistan reported that the prevalence of behavioral problems among working children was 9.8%. Peer problems were most prevalent, followed by problems of conduct. 30 A study from Ethiopia 31 reported that emotional and behavioral disorders are more common among working children. However, another study in Ethiopia 28 reported a lower prevalence of mental/behavioral disorders in child laborers compared to non-working children. The stark difference between these two studies could be due to the explanation provided by Alem et al. , i.e. that their findings could have been tampered by selection bias or healthy worker effect.

A study concerned with child abuse in Bangladesh reported that the prevalence of abuse and child exploitation was widespread. Boys were more exposed. Physical assault was higher towards younger children while other types were higher towards older ones. 32 A similar study conducted in Turkey documented that 62.5% of the child laborers were subjected to abuse at their workplaces; 21.8% physical, 53.6% emotional and 25.2% sexual, 100% were subjected to physical neglect and 28.7% were subjected to emotional neglect. 33

One study focused on sexual assault among working females in Nigeria. They reported that the sexual assault rate was 77.7%. In 38.6% of assault cases, the assailant was a customer. Girls who were younger than 12 years, had no formal education, worked for more than 8 h/day, or had two or more jobs were more likely to experience sexual assault. 34

Main findings of this study

Through a comprehensive systematic review, we conclude that child labor continues to be a major public health challenge. Child labor continues to be negatively associated with the physical and psychological health of children involved. Although no cause–effect relation can be established, as all studies included are cross-sectional, studies documented higher prevalence of different health issues in working children compared to control groups or general population.

This reflects a failure of policies not only to eliminate child labor, but also to make it safer. Although there is a decline in the number of working children, the quality of life of those still engaged in child labor seems to remain low.

Children engaged in labor have poor health status, which could be precipitated or aggravated by labor. Malnutrition and poor growth were reported to be highly prevalent among working children. On top of malnutrition, the nature of labor has its effects on child’s health. Most of the studies adjusted for the daily working hours. Long working hours have been associated with poorer physical outcomes. 18 , 19 , 25 , 26 , 35 It was also reported that the likelihood of being sexually abused increased with increasing working hours. 34 The different types and sectors of labor were found to be associated with different health outcomes as well. 13 , 18 , 24 However, comparing between the different types of labor was not possible due to lack of data.

The majority of studies concluded that child labor is associated with higher prevalence of mental and behavioral disorders, as shown in the results. School attendance, family income and status, daily working hours and likelihood of abuse, in its different forms, were found to be associated with the mental health outcomes in working children. These findings are consistent with previous studies and research frameworks. 36

Child labor subjects children to abuse, whether verbally, physically or sexually which ultimately results in psychological disturbances and behavioral disorders. Moreover, peers and colleagues at work can affect the behavior of children, for example, smoking or drugs. The effects of child labor on psychological health can be long lasting and devastating to the future of children involved.

What is already known on this topic

Previous reviews have described different adverse health impacts of child labor. However, there were no previous attempts to review the collective health impacts of child labor. Working children are subjected to different risk factors, and the impacts of child labor are usually not limited to one illness. Initial evidence of these impacts was published in the 1920s. Since then, an increasing number of studies have used similar methods to assess the health impacts of child labor. Additionally, most of the studies are confined to a single country.

What this study adds

To our knowledge, this is the first review that provides a comprehensive summary of both the physical and mental health impacts of child labor. Working children are subjected to higher levels of physical and mental stress compared to non-working children and adults performing the same type of work. Unfortunately, the results show that these children are at risk of developing short and long-term health complications, physically or mentally.

Though previous systematic reviews conducted on the topic in 19 97 1 and 20 07 8 reported outcomes in different measures, our findings reflect similar severity of the health impacts of child labor. This should be alarming to organizations that set child labor as a target. We have not reviewed the policies targeting child labor here, yet our findings show that regardless of policies in place, further action is needed.

Most of the current literature about child labor follow a cross-sectional design, which although can reflect the health status of working children, it cannot establish cause–effect associations. This in turn affects strategies and policies that target child labor.

In addition, comparing the impacts of different labor types in different countries will provide useful information on how to proceed. Further research following a common approach in assessing child labor impacts in different countries is needed.

Limitations of this study

First, we acknowledge that all systematic reviews are subject to publication bias. Moreover, the databases used might introduce bias as most of the studies indexed by them are from industrialized countries. However, these databases were used for their known quality and to allow reproduction of the data. Finally, despite our recognition of the added value of meta-analytic methods, it was not possible to conduct one due to lack of a common definition for child labor, differences in inclusion and exclusion criteria, different measurements and different outcome measures. Nevertheless, to minimize bias, we employed rigorous search methods including an extensive and comprehensive search, and data extraction by two independent reviewers.

Compliance with ethical standards

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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  • developing countries
  • mental health
  • child labor

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  • Research article
  • Open access
  • Published: 07 July 2021

Prevalence and predictors of child labour among junior public secondary school students in Enugu, Nigeria: a cross-sectional study

  • N. O. Enebe 1 ,
  • J. T. Enebe   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-3517-1104 2 ,
  • C. C. Agunwa 1 ,
  • E. N. Ossai 3 ,
  • U. E. Ezeoke 1 ,
  • C. A. Idoko 1 &
  • C. O. Mbachu 1  

BMC Public Health volume  21 , Article number:  1339 ( 2021 ) Cite this article

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Globally, millions of children are involved in child labour. However, low- and middle-income countries are mostly hit. This study examined the predictors of child labour among public secondary school students in the Enugu metropolis.

This was a descriptive cross-sectional study of 332 junior secondary students attending public schools in Enugu metropolis, Nigeria. Multistage sampling technique was used to select the six secondary schools and the students that participated in the study. Data collection was done from September to October 2018. Pretested structured, interviewer-administered questionnaire was used for data collection. The questionnaire contained information on the sociodemographic variables, the kind of work done by the respondents and the number of working hours spent weekly. UNICEF’s standard indicator for child labour was used to estimate the prevalence of child labour. Logistic regression was used to identify socioeconomic predictors of child labour.

The prevalence of overall child labour was 71.7%, while for domestic and economic child labour prevalence were 52.1 and 34.0%, respectively. About 35.2% of the respondents worked under hazardous conditions while 8% were forced to work. Two-thirds (236, 65%) of the respondents who have heard about child labour perceived it as wrong. The child labourers mainly worked to render financial assistance to their parents. The predictors of child labour were class of study (AOR = 2.208 (95% CI: 1.199–4.066) and weekly income earned (AOR = 0.316 (95% CI: 0.176–0.567).

The prevalence of child labour among junior students in public secondary schools in Enugu is high, and is predicted by the level of schooling and income earned. Economic and social reforms could contribute to addressing the predictors of child labour.

Peer Review reports

The United Nations Conventions on the rights of the child (CRC) defines a child as a person below the age of eighteen years [ 1 , 2 ]. The Convention emphasizes the need for children to be protected from violence, sexual exploitation, and abuse as well as from work exploitation and hazardous jobs [ 1 , 3 ]. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defined child labour as work that is physically, mentally, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and tends to deprive them of opportunities for development and schooling [ 4 ]. Moreover, the International Labour Organization (ILO) defines child labour as work that deprives the child of his childhood potential and dignity or is harmful to his physical and mental development [ 3 ]. It is a well-known fact that child labour impacts negatively on the education of children, often causing them to drop out of school or spend more years in school. Children who engage in child labour are more likely to miss out on school days and lag behind their peers in academic performance. Hence, child labour is an infringement on the right of a child to quality education [ 5 ].

It is important to note that not all types of work done by children are regarded as child labour. This is particularly imperative in low and middle-income countries such as Nigeria where it is a tradition for children to work alongside their parents or guardians [ 6 ]. In 2008, the International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) adopted an operational definition of child labour that includes measurement of working time, age-specific thresholds and nature of work performed [ 7 ]. UNICEF and ILO also developed standard indicators for child labour disaggregated into three age categories, and these include, (i) for ages 5–11 - at least one hour of economic work or 28 h of domestic work per week; (ii) for ages 12–14 - at least 14 h of economic work or 28 h of domestic work per week; and (iii) for ages 15–17 - at least 43 h of economic or domestic work per week [ 8 ]. The Nigerian Multiple Indicator Cluster survey (NMICS) applied this module for the assessment of child labour in the year 2016/2017 [ 9 ].

Child labour remains a major public health issue in Nigerian despite prohibitions in law [ 10 ]. It has been estimated that about 15 million of children under the age of 14 years in Nigeria are engaged in one form of work [ 11 ]. The levels of practice of child labour in Nigeria has been high and varies across zones [ 12 , 13 ]. The Northern region is said to be child labour endemic due to the “misapplication of the Almajiri system”. Consequently, the northern region is most affected by out-of-school children [ 5 ]. In the south-eastern and south-south geopolitical zones, many children drop out of school to work as domestic help. In the western zone, many children are involved in street hawking and as domestic help [ 13 ]. Further, some Nigerian children are engaged in an occupation such as mining, quarrying, and agriculture [ 14 ].

In Nigeria, child labour is driven by social, demographic and economic factors such as poverty and loss of employment of parents, rural-urban migration, large family size and cultural norms such as polygamy [ 15 ]. Other drivers include maldistribution of schools, poor accessibility, and high cost of tuition [ 15 ]. More recently, conflicts and terrorism have caused internal displacements of people and damage to school facilities, pushing more children into child labour. Moreover, the mass killings of communities by bandits in northern Nigeria have contributed to creating more orphans and potential victims of child labour [ 16 , 17 ].

Studies done in different parts of Nigeria show that child labourers experience problems such as school drop-out, sexual molestation, and robbery [ 18 , 19 , 20 ]. The vulnerability of child labourers to poor education and health outcomes threaten the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [ 21 ]. Considerable proportions of school-aged children in Nigeria engage in child labour while they are in school, and the majority of child labourers are in school [ 15 ]. Therefore, child labour impacts school attendance and performance for in-school children.[18,19, 22].

In 2011, the overall National prevalence of child labor was 47% among children aged 5–14 years and 76% among children who were engaged in child labor but were attending school. Enugu state with an overall child labour prevalence of 47.9% with 86% of them combining child labour with school, was found to be among the 20 states with prevalence greater than the national average [ 15 ]. From the information above, it can be deduced that being in school does not rule out the possibility of being a child labourer; majority of child labourers are in-school with the resultant effect of poor school attendance and performance [ 18 , 19 , 22 ].

Enugu State introduced Universal Basic Education (UBE) into her education system in the year 1999 and despite that the number of out-of-school children aged 3-18 years was 26.5%, 15 years after that initiation of the programme [ 23 ]. The major reason for this large number of school children being out of school was financial in most cases [ 23 ] and many of those in school likely engage in so many economic activities to help them alleviate their financial needs while schooling. Inclusive Education and other programmes were also introduced in Enugu state in 2014 and beyond [ 24 , 25 ] to help drive all children to school and also to discourage child labour among school children. These efforts are meant to have reduced the number of out-school-children in the state and also the number of children that engage in child labour while schooling hence the need for this study.

ILO [ 26 ] noticed that much studies have evaluated the impact of child labour and school enrollment while less is known about the relationship between child labour and school attendance. This is because it is easier to elicit school enrollment from household survey than school attendance. This gives confidence that students school environment can be used to study the different forms of child labour and their prevalence in our environment hence this study is rather school-based.

Enugu therefore presents a perfect setting to study the current prevalence of child labour and issues promoting this public health menace in Nigeria. This study will also bring to view the effect of government interventions in the past towards reducing the number of children that are combining schooling with child labouring or dropping out of school due to child labour.

The current study estimates the prevalence of child labour in public secondary schools and underscores the predictors of child labour in this population. This will contribute to existing evidence on the burden of child labour. Furthermore, uncovering the predictors of child labour among schooling children could inform the formulation of policies and design of intervention strategies to reduce child labour.

Study design

This was a descriptive cross-sectional study of 332 junior secondary schools (JSS) students in public secondary schools in the Enugu metropolis, using the quantitative research method.

Study setting

This study was conducted in the metropolis of Enugu state. The State is one of the five states in south-eastern Nigeria. There are 17 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the State, and three of them make up the metropolis. There are 314 public secondary schools and 1382 private secondary schools in Enugu State. The student-teacher ratio and student-class room ratio in the public secondary schools are 16:1 and 232:1, respectively. Enugu metropolis harbours the majority of the economic activities in the State. The metropolis also has the highest numbers of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in the State.

Recruitment of participants and data collection was done from September to October 2018.

Study population

The study population consisted of junior secondary students in public secondary schools. Participants were selected from the junior classes to reflect only the population that was being covered by the free education of UBE. Furthermore, JSS 2 and 3 classes were purposively chosen because the researchers considered that these students would be mature enough to partake in some meaningful interaction with researchers, and would be bold enough to provide answers to the questions. Senior secondary students were excluded because they were not covered by the free education policy of UBE, and they were more likely to be above the upper age limit (17 years) for the child labour questionnaire [ 18 , 19 , 27 ].

Exclusion criteria

The following groups of students were excluded from participating in the study: students who were too ill to respond to questions (acutely ill); students with known chronic diseases for which they regularly missed school to go for medical check-ups; students who were absent from school on the day of the survey; and newly enrolled students who were not in school in the previous term.

Sample size calculation

The minimum sample size for the study was determined using the formula for estimating sample size for descriptive studies N  = Z2pq/d2 [ 28 ]. From a previous study in Ogun state, 68.6% of the school children practised child labour [ 27 ]. A total of 332 junior secondary school students were studied based on a type 1 error (α) of 0.05 in a two-sided test with a power of 0.8.

Sampling technique

This study used a multistage sampling technique. Enugu metropolis is made up of 3 LGAs. A list of all the public secondary schools in each of the three LGAs was obtained and this formed the sampling frame for the study. At the first stage, two public secondary schools were randomly selected from each of the three LGAs in the Enugu metropolis and this gave a total of 6 schools that were used for the study. The six schools were found to comprise 2 boys’ schools, 2 girls’ schools and 2 co-educational schools. At the second stage, an equal number of students (62 students per school) were selected from each of the 6 selected schools given a total of 372 students that were eligible and selected for the study. Also, an equal number of students were selected from each of JSS 2 and 3 classes (31 students from each class). Within each class, a list of all eligible students was obtained and a systematic sampling technique was employed to select 31 students from each class of JSS 2 and JSS3. Where there was more than one arm/stream in a class, simple random sampling was done to obtain one arm/stream from that class. In a situation where less than 31 students met the criteria in a selected class, participants were selected from all arms using proportional allocation.

Study instruments

A pre-tested, structured, interviewer-administered questionnaire was used to collect data from the eligible students. The questionnaire was adopted from the concise revised standard Multiple Indicator Cluster Sampling (MICS) module on child labour [ 29 ]. The questionnaire elicited socio-demographic characteristics of participants, as well as the kind of work they did and the number of hours they worked per week. See additional file 1 .

Data collection and measurement of variables

Pre-testing of the questionnaire.

The structured self-administered questionnaire was pre-tested among 45 pupils (10% of the sample size) in a public secondary school within the metropolis, that was not selected for the study. The pre-testing was used to ensure that the questions were clear, complete and appropriately framed/structured. The questionnaire was revised accordingly at the end of the pre-testing.

The prevalence of child labour was obtained by adopting the UNICEF’s standard indicator for child labour [ 9 ] which uses the MICS module on child labour [ 29 ] These tools assess child labour as the percentage of children aged 5–17 years with a total work hour above the given age-specific threshold in the previous week before the study. Those defined as child labourers were, therefore, (i) children aged 5–11 who performed at least one hour of economic work or 28 h of domestic work per week, (ii) children aged 12–14 who performed at least 14 h of economic work or 28 h of domestic work per week, and (iii) children aged 15–17 who performed at least 43 h of economic or domestic work per week [ 8 ].

Perception of child labour

This was measured by asking respondents if they had heard about child labour, what constituted child labour, and whether child labour was right or wrong.

Measurement of variables

The dependent variable/outcome variable was the presence or absence of child labour. The independent/predictor variables included respondents’ socio-economic status (SES), age, sex, class, family structure, position in the family, household size, type of work performed by a child, number of working hours, and weekly income generated. SES was determined by the “Wealth Index Scale” which used information on the ownership of some vital household properties (such as television, refrigerator, and car.) to reflect the standard of living of the household [ 30 ].

Data analysis

Data entry and analysis were done using IBM Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 23 and STATA software. The STATA software was used only for the calculation of the wealth index (socioeconomic status) of the participant’s families while other remaining analyses were done with SPSS software. Univariate and bivariate analyses were performed. The association between the independent variable and categorical dependent variables was tested using Chi-square. Associations that returned a p -value of 0.05 or less were entered into the logistic regression model to determine predictors of child labour.

The logistic regression analysis results were reported using the adjusted odds ratio (AOR), 95% confidence interval, and the level of statistical significance was set at a p -value of < 5%. All monetary calculations involving the use of ‘The Naira’ was done based on a conversion rate of ₦370 equal to one United States Dollar (USD) as obtained at the time of the study.

The STATA statistical software version 12 was conveniently used to generate the socio-economic status index using Principal Component Analysis, (PCA). This involved inputting variables related to ownership of ten household items that included radio, television, air conditioner, car, fridge, generator, electric fan, phone, rechargeable light, and electric iron. Quartiles, (Q) was used for the calculation of distribution cut off points with each respondent assigned the wealth index score of the household. The quartiles were the poorest (Q1), the very poor (Q2), the poor (Q3), and the least poor(Q4). These were further sub-divided into low socioeconomic class (the poorest and very poor) and high socio-economic class (the poor and the least poor) groups [ 31 ].

The primary outcome measure of the study was the prevalence of child labour among the respondents who were attending JSS2 and JSS3 in public secondary schools in Enugu metropolis, Nigeria.

Socio-demographic characteristics of respondents

Out of 372 eligible students, parents of 18 participants (4.8%) did not give consent for the study while 22 (5.9%) participants did not complete their questionnaires properly. It was a total of 332 students (89.2%) who completely filled their questionnaires that was used for analysis. The socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents as shown in Table  1 revealed that the mean age of the participants was 14 ± 1.2 years with the majority (73.8%) falling within the age range of 12 to 14 years. There were more males than females (53.6% vs 46.4%). All respondents were Christians and the majority (98%) were from the Igbo ethnic group. The majority (92.5, 89.2%) were from the monogamous household type and nuclear family structure respectively. A large proportion (78%) lived with at least one parent, 63.3% lived with both parents while 28% lived with either other relatives or unrelated custodians. The respondents mainly had a large household size of 5 to 9 (79.5%) while the majority (75.3%) fell within 1 to 4 birth order.

Other background characteristics shown in Table  2 revealed that the respondents’ biological parents mainly had secondary education as their highest level of education while for those not living with their parents, tertiary education was the highest level of education of their custodians. The parents of the respondents were mainly artisans, unemployed and petty traders while the custodians were businessmen, employed in private firms and public servants.

Prevalence of child labour according to the type of activities done

The prevalence of general child labour among students of public secondary schools in Enugu metropolis, Nigeria was 71.7% while the prevalence of Domestic and Economic child labour was 52.1 and 34.0% respectively. About 35.2% of the respondents worked under hazardous conditions while 8.1% were forced to work. Table 1 shows that majority of the child labourers (73.8%) fell within the age bracket 12 to14 years while only 2.7% of them fell within 9 to 11 years. Figure  1 strengthens this finding as respondents within the same age bracket (12 to 14 yrs) carried out all categories of child labour more than those that fell within 5 to 11 years and 15 to 17 years age brackets.

figure 1

Age distribution of different categories of child labour

Table  3 shows the prevalence of child labour according to the different characteristics of the participants. The majority of the child labourers started working between the age of 5–10 years and the mean number of hours the participants worked in the preceding week before the study was 45 h. The total number of both economic and domestic work hours in the previous one week was compared in Table  4 .

The pattern of child labour in the previous week before the study

Figure  2 shows that 301 (90.7%) of all respondents carried out domestic activities in the previous 1 week before the survey, close to 20% of them spent greater than 43 h on domestic work during the same week. Other activities carried out by the respondents were selling in kiosks (33.2%), farm work (19.6%), apprenticeship (13.9%), street hawking (11.4%), car wash (9.3%) and barrow pushing at the market (1.6%).

figure 2

Pattern of child labour in the previous week before the study. MSK – Musculo-skeletal system

Perceptions of child labour among respondents

About 29% of the respondents had not heard of child labour before the study and therefore had no view about it. However, out of the 236 respondents that had heard about it, 64.8% (153) of them perceived it as wrong.

Factors associated with child labour (overall)

Table  5 shows that class of the respondents and weekly income generated by the respondents were the predictors of child labour; Lower junior secondary class (JSS2) (AOR = 2.180 (95% CI: 1.183–4.016), P  = 0.003) and weekly income less than 10,000 Naira (USD27) (AOR = 0.315 (95% CI: 0.175–0.565), P = < 0.001) were the predictors of child labour. Respondents who were in JSS2 were 2.2 times more likely to be involved in child labour than those in JSS3. Also, respondents who earned less than 10, 000 Naira weekly were 3.2 times less likely to be involved in child labour than those who earned more than 10,000 nairas (USD 27) weekly. Age was a factor from chi-square test ( p  < 0.001) but did not predict child labour (AOR: 1.20; CI: (0.7–2.0)).

Challenges of child labour

Figure  3 shows that the majority (64.2%) of the respondents sustained minor injuries while working, some (26.8%) of them experienced minor illnesses such as cough and musculoskeletal pains, 16.3% were physically abused, 14.8% were frequently late to school, 12% sustained major injuries and 12% were involved in road accidents, 10.8% performed poorly in their academics, 5.4% were sexually abused, 5.1% dropped out of school at some point while 4.2% were robbed.

figure 3

Challenges of child labour of the study participants

The high prevalence of child labour found in this study suggests that child labour is quite common among school children in Enugu. This is similar to what has been reported by other studies among junior secondary school students in southwest Nigeria [ 19 ] [ 27 ] However, it is almost twice as much as what was reported for the whole State following the 2016/2017 MICS/NICS [ 9 ]. The difference between these findings and that of the current study could be due to the difference in methodology and data collection. While MICS/NICS is a household survey where parents were interviewed, this current study interviewed the children themselves. This is likely to reduce recall bias as well as eliminate the possibility of parental interference and influence. When compared with the National Child Labour Survey, [ 9 ] done in 2018, the prevalence obtained in the current study is also higher than what was reported among in-school children.

Assessment of the different categories of child labour among the respondents revealed that though 90.7% of the respondents carried out domestic works, only 52.1% of them carried it out above the given age-specific threshold while 34.0% of the respondents carried out economic work above the age-specific threshold. Also, 35.2% of respondents worked under hazardous conditions while 8.1% of them were forced to work. The higher prevalence of domestic works compared to economic work could be explained by the common practice of engaging underage children as domestic help in the State, and indeed the country. These children are usually brought from poor households in rural areas and neighbouring states to the urban areas to assist in caring for children, cleaning the house, and cooking. The prevalence of children engaged in economic and domestic activities obtained in this study are comparable to similar studies undertaken in southwest Nigeria [ 18 , 19 , 27 ] However, the variations could be explained by the differences in the overall economic viability of the study sites. Thus, studies that were done in areas with greater economic viability yielded a higher prevalence of child involvement in economic work in comparison to our study area.

Our finding that over three-quarters of the child labourers fell within the age range of 12 and 14 years is in keeping with other Nigerian studies [ 27 , 32 ]. Also, the fact that 61.3% of the child labourers from this study lived with both parents, disapproves of the general view that it is mainly related and unrelated guardians that subject their wards to child labour. From the current study, child labourers living with their parent(s) were mainly involved with economic activities while those living with related and unrelated guardians were mainly involved with domestic activities.

Awareness of child labour among the respondents was below expectation, and barely two-thirds of the children perceived it as wrong. A considerable number of children perceived it as right, and this could explain the finding that many of them expressed satisfaction with the work they did and thought that child labour should be encouraged. This is in keeping with findings from other authors that reported that 54–86% of working children and their parents felt that children should work and that engaging in economic activities has no negative impacts on children [ 32 , 33 ]. However, some studies have also reported inconsistent findings where over 60% of parents reported that child labour is hazardous to children, and exposes them to social vices and numerous health risks [ 34 , 35 ].

The study revealed an association between child labour and age, tribe, gender, socio-economic status, custodians, family size, number of working children, weekly income of students, as well as family structure, however, only the age of the students ( p  < 0.001), class ( p  = 0.003), and weekly income made by the respondents ( p  < 0.001) were found to be significantly associated with overall child labour. Class: AOR = 2.180 (95% CI:1.183–4.016) and weekly income: AOR = 0.315 (95% CI: 0.175–0.565) were the predictors of overall child labour. Children in JSS 2 were twice more likely to practice child labour than those in JSS3. This could be explained by the fact that JSS3 is an exam class where secondary school students write their lower secondary school external exams (junior Secondary School Certificate Exam). With the high literacy level of the state, caregivers would prefer to engage children when they are not in exam classes than when they are preparing for external exams. Similarly, schools engage students in exam classes in such a way that they return home after work/business hours [ 36 ].

Child labour was also predicted by weekly income made by the child labourers as those who earned over ₦1000 (US$2.7) a day were about 3 times more likely to carry out child labour than those who earned less. This is consistent with the finding that the majority of the economic child labourers in the study worked to support themselves or their parents financially. This is also supported by the findings that about 90% of the respondents have a large family size (greater than 5) with close to 70% of them having to train more than 5 children. In addition, more than 50% of the households fell within the poorest and very poor wealth quartiles. Other authors have also reported that low socioeconomic status, poor family background, and large family size are associated with child labour [ 20 , 27 , 37 ]. Furthermore, child labour has been reported to increase with decreasing level of parental education and socioeconomic status [ 27 ].

This study is limited by the fact that the psychological state of the children may have affected their responses and this was not determined in the research. However, this study has given an overview of the pattern of child labour in the Enugu metropolis. A larger study that can compare urban and rural areas of the state may give a clearer picture. Also, a qualitative study will help get a detailed understanding of the experiences of these child labourers both in their workplaces and in the hands of their caregivers.

The prevalence of child labour is high among junior secondary school children in public schools in the Enugu metropolis. The majority of these child labourers are engaged as domestic workers, and a significant number of them spend over 43 h a week working at home and performing tasks that are considered hazardous for their age. The predictors of child labour were the level of study and weekly income earned from the economic activities.

This study should be replicated in rural areas and other states in Nigeria to help compare the findings. We recommended further studies on the relationship between child labour and the academic performance of students. Policy draft, review, and implementation of the existing ones should be made to help address some of the issues noted in this study. Awareness creation on the consequences of child labour is urgently needed.

The establishment and sustainability of education programs such as the Universal Basic Education (UBE) scheme will reduce the cost of education for the parents and guardians thereby improving school attendance and reducing child labour. Government, non-governmental agencies, and interested policy actors should double their efforts and increase their focus and campaign against child labour to fast track the implementation of legislation against child labour.

Availability of data and materials

The data sets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We appreciate the contributions made to this research by the teachers and principals in all the schools used for this research. They assisted immensely in ensuring smooth data collection and organization of the participants. We also acknowledge Drs. Ifeoma Obionu and Ifeoma Okonkwo for their contributions.

This research was completely sponsored/funded by the authors. There was no funding from any external source for this research work.

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N. O. Enebe, C. C. Agunwa, U. E. Ezeoke, C. A. Idoko & C. O. Mbachu

Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, College of Medicine / Teaching Hospital, P.M.B. 1030, Parklane, Enugu, 400001, Nigeria

J. T. Enebe

Department of Community Medicine, College of Health Sciences, Ebonyi State University Abakaliki, Abakaliki, Nigeria

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NO and JT were involved in the conception, designing, data collection, analysis, and final draft of the manuscript. CC contributed to the conception, designing, data collection, and analysis. EN made major contributions in the conception, designing, data collection, analysis, and writing of the final draft of the manuscript. UE contributed significantly to the conception, design, analysis, and writing of the final draft of the manuscript. CA contributed substantially to the conception, data collection, and writing of the final draft of the manuscript. CO contributed to the interpretation of findings and reviewed the final draft of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Ethical approval with ethical clearance certificate number NHREC/05/01/2008B-FWA00002458-IRB00002323 for this study was obtained from the Ethics Review Committee of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Ituku-Ozalla. Approval for the use of the selected schools for the study was also obtained from the Post-Primary School Management Board (PPSMB) under the Enugu State Ministry of Education. Permission to use a particular school was obtained from the principals of the selected schools upon submission of the ethical clearance certificate and approval letter from PPSMB. Informed consent was sought from the parents/guardians through their children/wards. Parents of 18 eligible students did not give informed consent for their wards to participate in the study. Only students whose parents signed the consent form were required to sign the assent form. Confidentiality was ensured through the non-inclusion of self-identifying characteristics. The purpose of the study and other ethical procedures were fully disclosed to participants.

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Enebe, N.O., Enebe, J.T., Agunwa, C.C. et al. Prevalence and predictors of child labour among junior public secondary school students in Enugu, Nigeria: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health 21 , 1339 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-11429-w

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Research Paper on Child Labor in Hotels of Kathamndu

by Biranchi Poudyal

Child labor persists when national laws and policies to protect children are lacking or are not effectively implemented. So far the child labor in Kathmandu is concerned, poverty is the main cause of worst form of child labor. Rural people are mostly suffered from larger family size and small land holding problems which make them main supplier of child labour. It is also estimated that four children out of five are trooped in the worst form of child labour. The child being a very innocent illiterate and unknown person is exploited very much by the society and this is also one of the vital causes for worst form of child labour. 62 % children enter the work force between the age of 10-14 years.Girls are more exploited then boy that is why they start working earlier than boys. This is reflected in the findings from different reports that 28.9% of girls in the worst forms of child labour are in the age group of 5-9 years compared to 1603% of the boys of the same age. While working only 17.8% of the children mostly boys are allowed to attend school. Among 38.4% of the domestic child workers are paid salary but in 59.3% of the cases parent collect the wages. This practice is more prevalent among girls children where parents collect the wages of 78.6% of the working irls.31.6% of the boy left their workplace for another work due to low remuneration and 52% of the girl children reported that harassment was the most important reason for learning.

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Executive Summary This report was commissioned by the Department for International Development and funded by UK Aid to provide evidence for DFID to design a business case for a new Asia regional programme on child labour. Research for the report was guided by three central questions: 1. What are the current trends and status of bonded child labour in South Asia? 2. What are the main drivers of bonded child labour in different country contexts? 3. What types of interventions have been most effective in reducing bonded child labour? The research drew on evidence from several South Asian countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Key Conclusions (summary) 1. The prevalence of bonded child labour in South Asia is unknown, reflecting a research gap in the context of the sensitivity and in some cases illegality of this form of employment relation. Evidence on children working shows a downward trend overall in Sri Lanka and broadly speaking across India. 2. This report offers a definition of bonded child labour focused on the child’s entrapment. This definition places most bonded child labour within the boundary of child labour estimates. Those children under age 18 who are in a forced labour situation are also inherently entrapped, and by virtue of their age they cannot give valid consent, so child forced labourers also constitute bonded child labour. 3. The prevalence of recorded child labour is highest in Nepal at 37% of children age 5-14 years. The Afghanistan prevalence is also high at 29% of children age 5-14. In Afghanistan this figure is gender-differentiated, with a lower prevalence among girls of 24%. In Pakistan, a variety of regional studies show different rates, and no single national figure can be obtained. Pakistani data from 2014 on children aged 10-14 indicates a 10% rate of child labour among those aged 10-14. The rate of child labour in India is very differentiated, both over space and by social group, with a national estimate of 12% of children age 5-14 in 2005/6. Recent national child labour estimates have not been published for India from 2011/12 and later, although solid survey data exists on child workers, and this area offers good opportunities for further research. Bangladesh has a good national survey dated 2013, showing a 4% child labour rate among children age 5-14. Myanmar’s rate is much higher at 9%. The rate of child labour for children aged 5-14 in Bhutan is 3%. The rate in Sri Lanka is 3%, excepting the far north Jaffna region which is omitted from official figures. 4. There are opportunities to extend knowledge by re-using the existing secondary data. For example early child marriage may be evident in survey data, but has not been included in bonded child labour estimates. 5. 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One of the significant transformations in the political economy of rural Nepal is the gradual weakening of traditional forms of attached and caste-based division of labor. Not only has there been a diversification of rural livelihoods from land- and agriculture-based to non-agricultural and non-land-based sources, there is also a growing and widespread mobility of labor within and outside the country. Mobility ranges from commuting for day labor to nearby areas and seasonal mobility to towns and cities or across the border to India, to organized migration to the Gulf, Southeast Asia, and beyond. Mobility of labor has become a significant and increasing part of the rural political economy. The existing debates on migration in Nepal are largely limited to labor migration to international destinations, ignoring the significance of the largest number of migrants, who move internally or across the border to India. These debates are dominated either by discourses on remittances or portrayal of these migrants as voiceless victims. This research captures the social meanings associated with migration experiences amongst the poorer sections of the population and considers both internal and international labor migration. The main aim of this research is to document social suffering among migrants and locate their experiences in the wider context of social transformation in Nepal. We conducted in-depth interviews with the subjects themselves and a range of other stakeholders, such as manpower/ recruitment agencies and trade union representatives, and by using participant observation in different settings including cities like Kathmandu (looking at brick kilns and the service, manufacturing, and construction sectors), towns and rural areas in Nepal (looking at the service and construction sectors), India (domestic work, service sector, etc.), the Gulf States (construction, agriculture, and service sectors) and other specific sites where various forms of exploitative, bonded labor and trafficking practices are widespread. Through these in-depth interviews, we were able to document and explain the nature and practices of labor from the perspective of vulnerability and livelihoods. This research argues that while the discussion on migration, remittances, and their impact on poverty alleviation is very important for Nepal’s development, we cannot ignore the exploitative conditions under which such gains are made and the suffering of migrant workers that is visible in terms of despair, bodily harm, discrimination, and death. Building on our earlier research, we argue that mobility of labor has not necessarily meant more freedom for poorer migrants, although the idea of freedom appears to be driving much of the out-migration from rural Nepal. Further, mobility and wage labor have led to contradictory class mobility; i.e., while migration has certainly opened up opportunities for cash income, the nature of work and working conditions have often resulted in social dislocation, humiliation, debt entrapment, social suffering, and structural violence. Migrants’ mobility highlights an apparent contradiction and their liminal position: they leave the villages because of their redundancy in the rural-agrarian labor processes as well as because of the attraction that modernity has to offer in the cities and towns, but they are constantly driven back to their village because of the transient and time-bound nature of their mobility. One of the paradoxes of Nepali migration amongst the poorer population is that the identity of the migrant remains attached to the village even if the working sites and sectors are “modern” and urban. For marginal migrants, the circulatory nature of migration does not appear to be as transformative as might have been expected: while life in the destination may well be urban and modern, their identity remains rural, or at best “rurban.” Our findings indicate that despite known risks, a large number of migrants appear to “consent” to work in exploitative working conditions.

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Research into the topic of child labour has experienced a significant upswing in the past two decades. Yet despite this increased attention, child labour remains a significant problem in many parts of the world. According to recent estimates by the International Labor Organization (ILO), there were approximately 176 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 in employment in 2008, of which roughly 53 million were participating in hazardous work (Diallo et al., 2010). A common perception is that most child labourers work for wages in the formal sector, conjuring images of children working long hours in sweatshops or toiling away in mines. As a result, consumer boycotts and trade sanctions against products using child labour as an input are often discussed as means of reducing the incidence of child labour. In reality, however, such methods may have little impact for several reasons. Firstly, the majority of working children are active in the agricultural sector, rather than manufacturing (ILO, 2006; Diallo et al., 2010). Secondly, very few children work for wages outside the home; rather, most children are employed by their parents on the family farm or enterprise (Edmonds and Pavcnik, 2005a).


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Almost 30,000 children, 5‐17 years old, are estimated to be working in the brick factories of Nepal.1 And this number appears set to grow given the increasing demand for bricks to support the current rate of urbanization. Poverty, conflict, lack of opportunities and alternatives, and debt bondage are the major factors which are thought to be funneling children out of school and into this industry. Should we be concerned? Is the work that children do really harming them or is it simply a minor role that enables parents to put adequate food on the table? What is known from adult studies is that brick manufacturing is labor intensive, requiring muscular effort in most stages of production. Workers carry heavy loads, remain squatting for long periods, and engage in repetitive tasks ‐‐ all within an environment that is often hot, dusty, and polluted. Working conditions in the brick industry are known to harbour many hazards. Lack of basic sanitation, no personal protective equipment, unfenced pools of stagnant water, and heavy metals (arsenic and lead) in the soil, are some of factors which pose serious risks to exposed workers. Adults who have worked in the brick kilns for years evidence a number of chronic health conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) and pulmonary disease2 that not only cause human suffering but are economically costly in that they reduce capacity to work and overall lifetime production. Theoretically, risks to children would be potentially more serious due to the fact that their bodies are still growing and they are more vulnerable than adults to a host of physical and psychological stressors. However, despite the large number of child workers in the brick industry, only two studies in Nepal3 have looked at health implications of child work. On the national scale, child labour has been gaining greater attention in recent years. The fact that one in every three Nepalese children is working is no longer assumed to be inevitable or desirable. Increasingly, a child labourer is seen as a symbol of a vulnerable and marginalized family, a reminder of an inadequate education system and unstable government. It is slowly being recognized that child labour can destroy children’s potential, rob them of the opportunity to go to school, and thereby perpetuate a cycle of poverty and marginalization that threatens the modernization of the country. The Government of Nepal plans to review the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1999 which lays forth the parameters for child labour (all work that is performed by children younger than 14 years, and hazardous work performed by children younger than 16 years) and bring it more into line with national priorities and international law.

Occupational Health and Safety Assessment of Child Workers in the Brick Industry, Nepal / International Labour Office, International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) ‐ Geneva: ILO, 2014

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Does social labelling encourage child schooling and discourage child labour in Nepal

2019, Pramesh Ghimire

This is a study of a form of children labour, those, who are involved in performing their daily household chores among Khash, Aadhibasi/Janajati and Dalit community of total 177 respondents from 150 households of three wards of Kerabari VDC, Morang. It also provides the findings of involvement period and types of household chores by the social, economic and demographic characteristics. Among 177 Children from 150 household, 51.4 percent are male and rests are female. Most of them are from the age group 7 to 8 years and the average household size is 5.2 members per family. Most of the children have 1 to 2 siblings. The study has found out that Hindu is the major (83%) religious group and literacy rate of children is 89 percent. Out of 159 literate children majority of them (52.2%) are going to pre-primary level. Most of the children involve almost 2 hours in household chores and most of them involve in fetching water and wood as well as kitchen work. Most of the children aim to be a doctor in future. Similarly, majority of the children (86.7%) are from the agricultural family. Almost 26 percent children are from the family of having below 20,000 annual incomes and 45.3% families have less than 10 Kattha land. Among total 16 out-school children almost 10 are Dalit and 60 percent of them work four and more hours. Similarly, 27 percent in-school Dalit children work four and more hours, whereas only 16 and 15 percent children work four and more hours. Thus, Dalit children involve more in performing household chores. Similarly, out-school children also involve more hours. The involvement period is growing up along with the age and level of education of children. On the contrary, annual income among land-holding condition of family and availability of instruments of media exposure with average involvement period of children in household works. Most of the children are found to be involved in various types of household chores even so longer period from their very younger ages. Study has found that some of the children are in the worst form of child labour on the basic of period of involvement, types of hazardous and age of children.

Thesis about Child Labour by Pramesh Ghimire 2019.

Sanjog Thakuri

Children who acquires almost half of the sky in Nepal still thousands of children are being abused, trafficked, neglected from policy to community level. This research based analytical report tries to figure it out in which areas the investment are planned by development agencies and which are the areas the investment is crucial and alarming. The report was published for the Royal Norwegian Embassy of Nepal by Mr. Gauri Pradha, Ms. Indu Tuladhar and Mr. Sanjog Thakuri

A Situation Analysis of Child Rights in Nepal

2000, Population and Development in Nepal

Can Child Migration in Nepal be Explained under the Modernization Perspective?

Chhabi Baral

Livelihood assets and strategies of force migrated Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Urban, Kathmandu Nepal


Anita Ghimire , Suman Paudel

Inter-linkages between urban poverty, lack of access to basic services, violence and their impacts on children of slums in Nepal

Navin Poudel

2010, Journal of Nepal Paediatric Society

Corporal Punishment in Nepalese School Children: Facts, Legalities and Implications

Anish Yadav

Proposal on child labour

Muhammad Gondal

Stepping Up Child Protection An assessment of Child Protection Systems from all countries in South Asia, including reflections from Central Asia

hauwa abubakar

Abolition of child labour

Debraj Bhattacharya

Study on Cross-border trafficking in India and Bangladesh for Groupe Developpement, 2004-05

Shiva Hari Gyawali


Dr. Sanjay Mohapatra

2011, Educational Research (ISSN: 2141- …

“Child Labour”-A Product of Socio-Economic Problem for India, Findings and Preventives-A Case of Bhubabaneswar (A State Capital of India)

Monaiam Ahmed

Child labor is a worldwide phenomenon but more focus is required on developing countries, like Bangladesh. Most of us consider child labor exploitative and therefore, socially unacceptable. The study of child labor is however, important not only for physical and psychological but also for economic ones. In Bangladesh, working children are comfortable to running in industrial, mechanized, small scale factories, metal works, construction, and hotel also in several informal segment activities. An important effect of child labor is on demographic development is a country. It is generally found that poor countries with high rates of population growth have higher incident of child work. Child labor constitutes an important obstacle to achieving Universal Primary Education and other Millennium Development Goals in Bangladesh. It not only harms the welfare of individual children, but also slows broader national poverty reduction and development efforts. The study is conducted is based on a survey, the study found that working children’s are suffering different the physical and psychological problems regarding in a particular field.Study used quantitative and qualitative method for data collection and particularly survey was used. A total of 65 respondents of different places in Sylhet City Corporation were interviewed. SPSS windows program was used to process and organize the data for the study. The fieldwork observation shows that the working environment of child labors are hazardous to child health due to unsanitary environment, unsafe working environment and the hazardous work (expanded working hours, heavy work, and dangerous jobs).They also suffer from breathing problem, physical pain, eye sight problem, cold & fever, minor injuries and skin diseases. Inspire of that majority of child workers have a very common expectation that is all of them want to lead a happy life with their work and their family.

Big Work Small Body Smaller Pay: Socio-Psychological Impact on Child Labor in Bangladesh: (A Study Area Sylhet City Corporation)


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