Contemporary Child Labour

By Rachel Auld

An estimated 246 million children are engaged in child labour across the world of which 73 million under 10 years old.  Every year, 22,000 children die in work related accidents.  No country is immune with 2.5 million working children in the developed economies.

Child labour is a complex issue which cannot be considered in isolation form a number of other societal issues such as poverty.  Child labour fits within a spectrum from child slavery to child work.  A large amount of work has been done to define and describe child labour.


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as “every human being below the age of 18 years”.

The term child labour has had many definitions depending on who has provided them and the context in which they were produced, therefore resulting in no concrete definition

The development of child labour has been closely associated with industrialisation and globalisation.  It is clear that child labour is a global issue.  It is growing worldwide due to the increase in globalisation.  Globalisation it is assumed, increases the demand for export products and in its insatiable thirst for higher profits, industry replaces adults by cheaper child labour and moves from the formal to the informal household sectors.

Conditions in many of the places where child labour takes place as shocking, living often on less than a dollar a day, in slums often557698308_68695697e0_o without running water, gas or electricity.  Parents often send their children to work if they have large families and can’t work themselves.

We all buy clothes from companies such as Primark or Nike.  Primark was well known for manufacturing clothes which children as young as five have produced.  In 2008 a very documentary program was shown about Primark and the “unethical manufacturing practices in Primark’s supply chain. The problem arose when undercover reporters exposed child labour in three of India’s garment factories sub-contracted by Primark.  One such item was a woman’s hand-made embroidered top which retails in the UK at £4. Video evidence clearly showed that children were making the item. The BBC alerted Primark to their findings, to which Primark replied: ChildLabour“Under no circumstances would Primark ever knowingly permit such activities”. Primark has since claimed to have halted business with the mentioned suppliers, although this action was criticised by child protection groups as being irresponsible and likely to cause additional hardship to the labourers, arguing it would have been better to ensure working practices were turned around”.

So can we end child labour?  This would help the global economy.  It would cost $760 billion over a 20 year period to end child labour. This can be linked to the Millennium Development Goals, which can only be achieved if all forms of child labour are eradicated and all children up to the age of 15 are given the opportunity of full time education.


  1. Child Labour is nothing new. Before the Industrial Revolution and the growth of towns and Cities, children used to work with their parents in the fields. Then they moved to the factories, and thankfully their parents became rich enough to educate and feed them without exposing them to the dangers associated with literally back-breaking physical labour.

    If you really want to do something for those children that are still forced to work for a living, you need to encourage economic development. Spread the wealth, promote Capitalism.


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