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Hazards issue 108, October-December 2009
  Tens of thousands of children are killed at work each year
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Child labour isn’t about helping out mum and dad. For millions of children worldwide, it’s a way of life. And for many, like the Nepalese brick kiln workers pictured here, it can ruin their health and cut short their lives.

Child labour
Tens of thousands of children are killed at work each year


The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says more than 200 million children worldwide are involved in child labour. And they are not confined to safe, healthy or light work.

ILO’s figures suggest 126 million children aged 5 to 17 are employed in what it defines as “hazardous child labour”. Officially, ILO says this is work that “by its nature of the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.” We are talking, says ILO, about jobs that can kill, injure or make children sick.

The organisation estimates 22,000 children are killed at work each year. ILO adds: “Child labourers are susceptible to all the dangers faced by adult workers when placed in the same situation. However, the work hazards and risks that affect adult workers can affect child labourers even more strongly.”

A September 2009 report from the US Department of Labor, ‘2008 findings of the worse forms of child labour’, said children are commonly working in the fields, sweatshops, factories, brothels and on the streets. It said the highest proportion – 69 per cent – worked in agriculture. More than one in five child labourers (22 per cent) was in a service sector job, and almost one in 10 (9 per cent) worked in an industrial setting.

The US report said its intention was both to identify the scope of the problem and to serve “as a resource for governments around the work seeking ways to offer their children a path away from exploitative child labour and into education.”

There’s a long way to go. UNICEF estimates that in the least developed countries, 30 per cent of all children are engaged in child labour.


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GOOD LESSON  The Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI) is one of the global union federations supporting schools, arguing that children need a good education and adults need good work.

Image: Child labour

LIFETIME RISK  In developed nations, occupational exposure limits are based on adults working a normal working week. Child labourers are not only more vulnerable to many hazards, they are by definition exposed from an earlier age, they frequently work longer hours and often live at the work site. They are at greater risk for a longer time, even when not actually working.

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HAZARDOUS WORK  ILO estimates 2.6 million children in Nepal work in hazardous jobs. It says 60,000 children work in the country’s brick kilns and 32,000 in stone quarries.

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LARGE BURDEN  Children in the brick works lift crushing loads. The impact on their bodies can be injuries in the short term and, almost certainly, disability and arthritis in the long term.

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CHILDHOOD   Child labour doesn’t just deny children an education, it denies them a childhood.









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Hazards issue 108
Child labour

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Further information

ILO International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) webpages

Photos by Fiona Murie and Alison Woolley

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Good lesson

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Lifetime risk

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Hazardous work

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Large burden

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