Expanding access to quality education is a vital part of the effort to end child labor, according to an International Labour Organization (ILO) report released Nov. 13.

“Getting children off to a good start through appropriate early childhood development, care and pre-primary education programs is one of the most important strategies for ensuring that children transition successfully from early childhood to school, rather than to the workplace,” the report said.

Currently, 152 million children worldwide are in child labor. An estimated 73 million of these children work in hazardous conditions and 4.3 million in forced labor conditions.

The ILO defines the labor categories as follows:

Child labor: “Excludes children in employment who are in permitted light work and those above the minimum age for work whose work is not classified as a worst form of child labor, or, in particular, as ‘hazardous work.'”

Children in employment: “Any form of market production and certain types of non-market production (principally, the production of goods, such as agricultural produce for own use).”

Hazardous work: “Any activity or occupation that, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm their health, safety or morals.”

Forced labor: “Work performed by a child under coercion applied by a third party (other than his or her parents) either to the child or to the child’s parents, or work performed by a child as a direct consequence of his or her parent or parents being engaged in forced labor.”

Significant progress on ending child labor has been made since 2000. However, the reduction has been uneven and has slowed significantly since 2012.

“The overall slowdown is driven primarily by the slippage in progress witnessed in sub-Saharan Africa,” the report said. “Progress in the other regions continued over the 2012-2016 period.”

Africa has 19.6 percent of the world’s child laborers, with 8.6 million working in hazardous conditions.

By comparison, Asia and the Pacific have 7.4 percent child laborers and 3.4 percent in hazardous conditions, followed by the Americas (5.3 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively), Europe and Central Asia (4.1 percent and 4.0 percent, respectively) and Arab States (2.9 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively).

The direct and indirect costs of schooling, as well as the quality of the education and the distance of the nearest school, are some challenges that must be addressed in order to expand access to education and curb child labor.

“There is broad consensus that the single most effective way to stem the flow of school-aged children into child labor is to improve access to and quality of schooling, so that families have the opportunity to invest in their children’s education and the returns to such an investment are greater than those associated with involving children in work,” the ILO said. “Conversely, when the expected returns to education are low or education costs are unaffordable, schooling is likely to be seen by households as a less attractive or viable alternative to work for their children.”

The full report is available here.

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