There were 233 million working children in 2021, with 160 million in conditions of child labor, according to a report published on Sept. 28 by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

Of the 160 million in child labor, 79 million were working in hazardous conditions. All three figures are unchanged from the 2020 report published in September 2021.

These three categories of labor are defined in the report as follows:

  • Working children: “Those engaged in any productive activity for at least 1 hour during the reference period. Productive activity includes market production and certain types of non-market production, principally the production of goods and services for their families’ use.”
  • Child labor: “Work below the minimum age for work, as established in national legislation that conforms to international standards.”
  • Hazardous child labor: “Work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children.”

Of the 5-17-year-olds who find themselves in conditions meeting the definition of child labor, most are working in the agriculture (70%), with 19.7% working in services and 10.3% in industry.

The full and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic remain to be seen, but the report notes that an estimated 150 million more people are expected to be in situations of extreme poverty due to the pandemic.

“Poverty forces people to take risks to survive, making them more vulnerable to labor exploitation. These vulnerabilities are more severe for systemically and institutionally oppressed racial and ethnic minority groups,” the report said.

Of the 131 countries included in the report, nine were designated as having made significant advancement, 73 as making moderate advancement, 37 as having minimal advancement and nine as making no advancement. An assessment was not made for the remaining three nations.

These determinations are based on each country’s legal framework regarding child labor, as well as their mechanisms to enforce child labor laws and to coordinate with the business sector to curb child labor.

Three digital resources are available from the Department of Labor to allow for filtering goods and products produced by child labor and to find country-specific information: an online, interactive Better Trade Tool, a Sweat and Toil mobile app and a Comply Chain mobile app.

The child labor report is available here. The list of goods report is available here.

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