Enforcing children's and youth rights

Joining forces to combat child labour

A boy in Mali working on a sewing machine
German Development Minister Gerd Müller

"It is no longer acceptable that we ignore child labour and starvation wages just so we can buy bananas, coffee and avocados at the lowest possible price."

German Development Minister Gerd Müller

In the 2030 Agenda, the international community made a commitment to eradicate all forms of child labour by 2025 (Goal 8.7).

This goal is achievable. However, a number of far-reaching improvements have to be realised quickly to that end. At present, nearly one in ten children must work; in Africa the rate is one in five.

While child labour has decreased considerably since 2000, from 246 million working children to 152 million in 2016, progress has slowed down in the past few years and child labour has actually increased again in sub-Saharan Africa. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has therefore pointed out that "we must move much faster if we are to honour our commitment to ending child labour in all its forms by 2025".

If the international community continues to pursue the effort against child labour at the current slow pace, as many as 121 million boys and girls will still be affected by child labour in 2025.

Background information

Child labour is banned under international law, but not all the work done by children is considered child labour. It is not illegal for children and teenagers to help their parents in the household or to work to earn some extra pocket money during their spare time. This may in fact have a positive impact on their personal development. The term child labour refers to all types of work that are harmful to the physical and mental development of children and youth or that prevent them from going to school.

The worst forms of child labour are those that are based on criminal or exploitative conditions or that are harmful to the child's mental and physical health, safety, or moral development. They include child prostitution and pornography, the use of children as child soldiers, drug cultivation and trafficking, underground mining, the carrying of heavy loads, the handling of dangerous chemicals and machinery, and work at night. Child labour is also often connected with child trafficking.

International standards and principles for the protection of children are already in place – in the form of the ILO core labour standards, especially Conventions 138 (1973) and 182 (1999). These standards lay down a minimum age for employment and define urgent steps against the worst forms of child labour.

Dhaka, Bangladesh: A boy producing bricks.

According to ILO estimates, some 152 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are working under conditions that constitute child labour (88 million boys, 64 million girls). Nearly half of that group is aged 5 to 11. 73 million children are working under conditions that are exploitative and often hazardous to their health and dangerous.

In the age group of 5-to-14-year-olds, one third of working children has no opportunity to go to school. While the other two thirds are able to go to school, studies have shown that they have less time and energy than other pupils and, as a result, their average educational performance is lower and they progress less quickly than their non-working peers.

Child labour takes many different forms: forced labour and debt bondage, work in private homes and in industrial establishments. Some 70 per cent of all child labourers work in agriculture, which is one of the most accident-prone sectors in the world. There are hardly any government labour inspections in agriculture, and workers are not protected by unions or consumer organisations. Children also often work in mining and in the textile and carpet industries.

Only about 30 percent of children receive payment for their work. Most child labour takes place in family-run businesses without any pay.

Some 72 million of the world's 152 million working children live in Africa, and some 62 million in Asia and the Pacific region.


Children in Kampala, Uganda, try to sell goods to motorists.

One common cause of child labour is poverty. People may be working and still be poor because they are not making a living income. Income volatility as a result of falling world market prices for agricultural commodities, economic crises or natural disasters and the lack of social protection for families also lead to poverty.

But poverty is not only a cause but also an effect of child labour. There is a high risk for children and young people who are affected by child labour to end up in poverty as adults. Among other things, their lack of education prevents them from finding good jobs in the labour market and securing a reliable income.

According to the ILO, the following steps are needed in order to eliminate child labour:

  • Advancing the legal commitment to child labour elimination and the central role of social dialogue
  • Promoting decent work for adults and youth of legal working age, especially through addressing informality
  • Building and extending social protection systems, including floors, to mitigate the economic vulnerability of households
  • Expanding access to free, quality public education as the logical alternative to child labour
  • Addressing child labour in supply chains
  • Protecting children in situations of fragility and crisis


Kutupalong refugee camp, where Rohingya displaced from Myanmar live: A girl is carrying a pallet with drinks on her head.

At the invitation of the International Labour Organization (ILO), more than 3,800 representatives of politics, the private sector and civil society met in Buenos Aires in November 2017 for the IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour.

In their final declaration (Buenos Aires Declaration), the conference participants confirmed their goal of eradicating exploitative child labour by 2025. One focus will be on agriculture, which is particularly affected. The conference participants also agreed to improve the availability of data and to work together more closely.

A young girl who works at the market in Ouagadougu in Burkina Faso.
Germany is working to combat child labour
German activities

Eliminating the causes of child labour

Through its development cooperation, Germany is making a comprehensive contribution towards addressing the structural causes of child labour.

For example, the German Development Ministry (BMZ) supports many developing countries in improving their education systems, creating jobs through sustainable economic development, and setting up social protection systems.

The German government is also lobbying directly for the elimination of child labour and for compliance with relevant international rules (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ILO core labour standards).

In its action plan Agents of Change – Children and youth rights in German development cooperation activities, the BMZ has set itself the goal of taking action against exploitative child labour, especially in Africa and Asia, and improving the conditions for working children, for example in the textile sector.

ILO Alliance 8.7

In 2017, the German government joined the ILO's Alliance 8.7 initiative. This global partnership seeks to develop and pilot innovative ways of combating child and forced labour. It also mobilises funding for relevant projects. Alliance 8.7 is open for countries, international and regional organisations, unions and business organisations, civil society organisations and academic institutions.

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

Since 1992, the ILO has been running its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). It supports governments' efforts against child labour. The German government helped launch the programme and has so far provided financial support equivalent to around 73 million US dollars.

German activities

Sustainable supply chains

To a certain extent, the prosperity enjoyed by industrialised countries is built on the poverty of others. Worldwide, some 450 million people work in global value chains, including children. Their rights must not be sacrificed in the race for profits and cheap commodities.

In order to enforce decent work worldwide, the BMZ is engaged in a vast range of efforts to foster compliance with sustainability standards in global supply chains. One of its primary goals in that connection is the elimination of exploitative child labour. The BMZ provides advice to governments, fosters dialogue between employers and employees, and supports the work of unions and associations.

Tea leaves in the hands of a tea plucker working for a company offering fairly traded tea
Training workshop of a textile company in Tunisia. A trainer instructs a young seamstress.
German activities

Cooperation with the private sector and civil society

Together with private companies, the BMZ supports the elaboration of voluntary codes of conduct, for example in the coffee sector. Such voluntary corporate commitments include a pledge to guarantee child labour-free supply chains. As part of multi-stakeholder initiatives, the BMZ is working with the private sector, unions and civil society in order to reduce the extent of child labour. Examples include the German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa and the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles.

Through its membership in the German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa, the BMZ is actively working against child labour and malnutrition in West Africa. One key goal of the Initiative is to reduce the extreme poverty under which cocoa farmers are suffering, and to improve their living conditions.

A boy in Bangladesh transporting a basket filled with stones.
German activities

Public procurement

The BMZ is also active within Germany. At the federal, state and local level, it seeks to help procurement decision-makers to purchase products that have been made in line with all relevant social standards.

This includes compliance with the relevant ILO Conventions on child labour.

Decision-makers can find practical advice at a BMZ-funded information portal, the Sustainability Compass.

A teenager in Burkina Faso is working on a market stall.


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