Sale of Children & Child Labor

The International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1996 estimated a global figure of 250 million child workers worldwide, of which 140 million were boy workers and 110 million girl workers. The Statistics and Monitoring Program in Child Labour, the statistical unit of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO/IPEC) in its 2002 report estimates that globally there were 211 million children aged 5–14 at work in economic activity in the year 2000. The total economically active child population between 5–17 is estimated at 352 million children. The largest number of child workers live in the Asia-Pacific region, though Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest incidence rate: almost 30% of all children in Africa between the ages to 5–14 are economically active.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography recognize the right of the child to be protected from “economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” The demand for child labor is immense not only because it is cheap but also because children are naturally more docile, easier to discipline than adults, and too frightened to complain. Their small build and nimble fingers are considered particularly well suited to certain kinds of work.

With a view to achieving the total abolition of child labor, the ILO Convention 138: Minimum Age Convention was adopted in 1973. This convention remains the fundamental international standard on child labor and has had a profound influence on national law and practice. However, growing international consensus recognized that eliminating child labor would take time and that there were certain kinds of child labor that required immediate action. The new standard, the ILO Convention 182, was adopted in 1999; it focuses on children in slavery, prostitution, pornography, illicit activities, and hazardous work. Children in all countries, no matter the level of development, are now to be legally protected from such extreme forms of child labor.


  • ILO Convention 138: Minimum Age Convention adopted in 1973
  • The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989),which stipulates that under international law, anyone under 18 is a child.
  • ILO Convention 182: Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (1999)
  • Most countries also have domestic legislation.

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Content by Mini Singh
Research Analyst, FSE

Content in Arabic by Raja El Habti
Research Assistant, FSE