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Education and

Child Labour

Key message

Education is a proven strategy for reducing child labour.


There is broad consensus that improving access to and the quality of schooling are the two most effective ways to decrease child labour. Children who have access to good quality education are better able to secure the skills and knowledge necessary to obtain a well-paying job, know their rights, and break the cycle of poverty and exploitation. Conversely, out-of-school child labourers are significantly more likely to be locked into a lifetime of low-pay, poor health, and vulnerability.
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Key challenges
  • Child labour is a primary reason for children being out of school One quarter of all children out of school is a direct result of child labour.
    (UNGEI, 2012)
  • Child labour hinders education even when children are able to attend school. Children attending school who are involved in child labour have lower levels of academic achievement and are less likely to progress to the next grade.
    (Emerson et al., 2017)
  • The quality of education matters in eliminating child labour. A survey of out-of-school children across a number of countries cited lack of interest and engagement as a primary driver of not attending school.
    (ILO, 2018)
  • Child labour greatly constrains the ability of a child to attend school. In nearly every country, a significant gap in attendance rates exists between those involved in child labour and those not. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, child labourers are four times less likely to be in school.
    UCW, 2020  UNGEI, 2012
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Make the case
  • Simply increasing the duration of compulsory education can reduce child labour. In China, requiring one additional semester of schooling reduced the rate of child labour by 8%.
    (Tang et al., 2029)
  • Education has an intergenerational impact on child labour. Educated parents are more likely to invest in their own children’s education, and children of educated parents are far less likely to be child labourers.
    (UCW, 2017)
  • Providing education and eliminating child labour is good social and economic policy. Eliminating child labour and implementing universal education would deliver benefits seven times greater than the costs.
    (ILO, 2004)
  • Expanding access to schools reduces child labour. In Guatemala, each additional 10 minutes of travel time to school increases the chances a girl will be involved in child labour by 2.2%.
    (UCW, 2003)
  • A little cash can incentivise families to choose school over work A review of five conditional cash transfer programmes in Latin America showed that cash incentives reduced the number of children working and the number of hours of child labour.
    (ILO, 2007)
  • Early childhood education is a key tool to eliminating child labour. Children enrolled in early childhood education programmes are more likely to transition successfully to primary school rather than the workforce.
    (ILO, 2018)
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Key Q&As
  • When a child labour is a matter of income for basic survival, isn’t it impossible for a family to send their child to school?
  • Child labour is a violation of human rights. There are many effective programmes which can support families living in poverty and allow children to attend school instead of work. For instance, conditional cash transfers can reward families who choose education over work and break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.
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Key opinion
Kevin Watkins Headshot 2020
Kevin Watkins
CEO of Save the Children
The COVID-19 pandemic has created the biggest education emergency of our lifetime. Schools not only provide children with a space to learn. For many children, school also keeps them protected from harm - where they can be referred to child protection and mental health services. But with school closures, children are missing out on these essentials. The protection schools provide is particularly important for the most vulnerable children, such as children living in conflict-affected areas or refugees. These children are at risk of being recruited into armed groups; being forced to do hazardous and exploitative work; and being forced into marriage and early pregnancy.
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Key talking points
  • Globally, 152 million children are in child labour, accounting for almost one in 10 of all children worldwide.
  • This number surges to just over one in four children in the poorest countries.
  • Accessible, quality education helps prevent child labour and break the cycle of poverty.
  • Offering incentives, such as cash transfers, encourages families to send children to school instead of work.
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