Causes of Child Labor

Unraveling the Causes of Child Labor

No parent dreams of their children growing up on a sugar plantation or spinning yards and yards of thread or wielding a machete to harvest cocoa. Yet 218 million children worldwide as young as 5 years old are in some sort of child labor situation.1 The International Labour Organization has defined child labor as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.”2 So, if no parent intends for their child to be deprived or harmed in this way, how does this happen? Let’s unravel the complex causes of child labor.

The first thread to follow in the causes of child labor is poverty.

The World Bank has set the worldwide poverty line at $1.90 per day, meaning that is the amount a person lives on per day. The World Bank estimated that 689 million people were at or below this level in 2017. With the COVID-19 pandemic reversing many gains that organizations and governments have made in the past decade regarding poverty levels, that number has increased dramatically since then.3

There is no easy path out of the poverty cycle when a family lives at this level of destitution. If a person has grown up at or below this level, they typically lack any means of advancement in skills and commonly have poor health due to malnutrition. Survival is the only thing they can focus on. The options before them are few. If you go long enough without food or water or warmth, you will likely make decisions you once thought impossible, such as sending your child to work in hazardous conditions.

Child labor in relation to poverty cannot be ignored. This is the place of vulnerability that many impoverished parents face. They may be working all day, every day as hard as they can and still not be able to provide for even their families’ most basic needs. If an unscrupulous plantation owner or other employer sees this situation, that employer might encourage them to have their children also work. These children are also vulnerable to traffickers, who offer false promises of a better life.

The second thread to follow in the causes of child labor is consumer demand.

Certain industries employ more child labor than others. How much child labor in the world continues can be partially linked to the market demand for items from such industries. For instance, fashion, chocolate and cobalt are three areas where market demand has contributed to the inclusion of children in production.4 5 6

Knowing this information, consumers can commit to being more aware of where their products come from and hold companies accountable for their business practices through advocacy and where they choose to spend their money. As Francis Bacon famously said, “Knowledge is power.”7 That includes the power of choosing where your dollars go as it relates to how many people are in child labor in the world.

The third thread to follow in the cause of child labor is sex trafficking.

“Around the world, an influx in sex tourism, the insatiable demand for child pornography and greed play key roles in the prevalence of child sex slavery and trafficking,” reports End Slavery Now. “In addition to strangers, family and close friends have been known to sell children off to individuals, businesses and groups involved in the sex industry.”8

This demand has created one of the most heinous forms of child slavery and labor, which has far-reaching effects on the individuals who suffer at the hands of traffickers.

Shanie is one young woman whose childhood was marred by child labor.9

Her parents were day laborers who also wove bamboo baskets for their family’s survival. Their earnings, however, were never enough to lift them out of extreme poverty. Shanie’s sister was forced to drop out of school because there wasn’t enough money for her education. They considered taking Shanie out of school as well, despite their desire for her to have a better life.

Sometimes, Shanie would skip school to weave baskets with her parents and earn a little extra money, but it was exhausting work. Shanie would go to bed overly tired and hungry. And it wasn’t just her. Most of the children in her village never even enrolled in school because of their struggle against poverty.

God-appointed help arrived one day when a GFA worker brought GFA World’s Child Sponsorship Program to their village. At first, it was intimidating to go to the program, but soon Shanie found it was everything she needed: The program provided food, assistance with school fees, help with school and so much more. Not only did Shanie complete her elementary education, she went on to complete university and become a nurse.

Shanie declared,

“What I am today is only because of [the sponsorship program]. I am proud and thankful to all the teachers in the [program].”

Sponsor a child today, and you could be helping to keep him or her out of child labor, which is often dangerous and overtly harmful. Just $35 a month is the difference between exhaustion and hunger and a life of education and hope. You can be that difference and be part of the solution to the worldwide travesty of child labor.

Learn more about girls’ education charities

1 “From the Sweat of Our Children.” The World Counts. Accessed February 18, 2022.
2 “What is child labour.” International Labour Organization. Accessed February 16, 2022.–en/index.htm.
3 “Measuring Poverty.” The World Bank. Last updated April 16, 2021.
4 “World Day Against Child Labour: Background.” United Nations. Accessed February 18, 2022.
5 “Industries that rely on child labor.” DW News. Accessed February 18, 2022.
6 Lawson, Michele Fabiola. “The DRC Mining Industry: Child Labor and Formalization of Small-Scale Mining.” Wilson Center. September 1, 2021,,as%20young%20as%20six%20years.
7 Bacon, Sir Francis. “Meditationes Sacrae.” 1597.
8 “Slavery Today: Child Labor.” End Slavery Now. Accessed February 18, 2022.
9 “A Young Girl’s Journey from Poverty to Hope.” GFA World Field Reports. October 24, 2021.