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Despite the fact that many people believe that slavery no longer exists, the International Labour
Organization (ILO) estimated that there are some 5.5 million children in slavery or practices similar to
They are all in child slavery, as defined by the 1956 UN Supplementary Slavery Convention. In these
cases, as well as being in a hazardous situation, there is an intention to exploit these children for
someone else’s gain.
This group of children includes:
Children who are used by others who profit from them, often through violence, abuse and
threats, in prostitution or pornography, illicit activities, such as forced begging, petty theft, and
the drug trade;
Forced child labour, for example in agriculture, factories, construction, brick kilns, mines, bars,
restaurants or tourists environment;
Children who are forced to take part in armed conflict. They don't only include child soldiers but
also porters or girls taken as “wives” for soldiers and militia members. According to UNICEF there
are about 300,000 child soldiers involved in over 30 areas of conflict worldwide, some even
younger than 10 years old. Children involved in conflict are severely affected by their
experiences and can suffer from long-term trauma;
Child domestic workers, many of whom are forced to work long hours, in hazardous and often
abusive environments, for little or no pay, and often far from home.
HOW BIG IS THE PROBLEM?
There are 168 million child labourers aged between 5 and 17 years old (ILO 2012). This is
considerably less than estimated 215 million in 2008.
Around five per cent of child labourers are estimated to be in the worst forms of child labour
Worldwide, 5.5 million children are in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms
of forced labour, forced recruitment for armed conflict, prostitution, pornography and other
illicit activities (ILO 2012).
CHILD WORK, CHILD LABOUR, CHILD SLAVERY?
The terms around exploitation of children can be quite confusing so here is a short explanation:
Some types of work make useful, positive contributions to a child's development. Work can help children
learn and develop particular skills that will benefit them and the rest of society. Often, work is a vital
source of income that enables children to help sustain their families.
According to the ILO, however, there are over 200 million child labourers around the world. Child labour
is not slavery, but nevertheless hinders children’s education, development and future livelihoods. For
example, children who are working below the legal minimum age for employment.
Worst forms of child labour
Of the children in child labour, some five percent are engaged in “hazardous work,” otherwise known as
the worst forms of child labour (ILO, 2012). This is work that irreversibly threatens children’s health and
development, through, for example, exposure to dangerous machinery or toxic substances, and may
even endanger their lives. The worst forms of child labour also include the 5.5 million children in slavery
and slavery-like practices, who are also subject to exploitation by others, and are the priority for us all to
Trafficking involves transporting people away from the communities in which they live, by the threat or
use of violence, deception, or coercion so they can be exploited for sex or labour. When children are
trafficked, no violence, deception or coercion needs to be involved, it is merely the act of transporting
them into exploitative work which constitutes trafficking. The vulnerability of these children is very
serious, often they do not have contact with their families and are at the mercy of their employers.
Marriage involving children under 18 years old remains a widely culturally accepted practice in many
corners of the globe. Estimates suggest that 11 per cent of women aged between 20 and 24 worldwide
were married before reaching the age of 15 (UNICEF 2012). Child marriage can operate as a shield
behind which slavery and slavery-like practices occur with apparent impunity. Although many marriages
involving children will not amount to slavery, particularly between couples aged 16 to 18 years, many
married children can experience levels of suffering, coercion and control that meet international legal
definitions of slavery and slavery-like practices.