Child Labor Definition

Child Labor Definition

A child labor definition provided by the International Labor Office is any “…work performed by a child that is likely to interfere with his or her right to education, or to be harmful to his or her health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”1

Children are often forcibly employed in agriculture, mining, factories and more. In such situations, children typically work long, labor-intensive hours with no breaks for minimal pay. These jobs may expose children to hazardous chemicals and materials, crowded workspaces and abuse. Employers might even deprive children of food, sleep or medical care to motivate them to work.

Regardless of the work environment, this work deprives children of opportunities to go to school, play with friends and grow.

Countries with the worst forced underage labor include Bangladesh, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Liberia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia.2 However, child laborers are employed worldwide. According to the International Labor Office, there are 152 million children in child labor worldwide. That is 1 in 10 children. More concerning, 374 million child laborers experience work-related illness or injury, and 2.78 million child laborers die annually.3 These child labor facts are staggering, and this practice affects millions of families worldwide.

Forming a child labor definition allows us to understand the weight of this global situation. So why are child laborers so common?

Poverty — Child slavery is common in communities experiencing poverty. The financial strain to feed, educate and care for their children can be too much for many families. As a result, some desperate families sell their children into slavery. Other families have their children work alongside them to supplement the family’s income; sometimes it’s the only way they can afford basic necessities.

Cost — It is less expensive to employ children; many employers will pay children less money for the same work that adults do. This increases the profit for employers.

Silence — Children are less likely to speak up about the harsh treatment and poor working conditions in fields, factories and sweatshops. With more life experience, adults might advocate for themselves and their needs, but children will often opt to be compliant under the threat of punishment.

While child laborers, or sweatshop kids, are a cheaper option for many employers, the effects of this kind of work on children are devastating. The ILO asserts that “the cost of child bonded labor is paid over a lifetime through the loss of health, education, and opportunities.”1 Working in these hazardous conditions can expose children to illness, injury and even death. Moreover, working can deprive children of their education, freedom and hope.

Like many children worldwide, young Sahlma experienced hopelessness and difficult working conditions working as a porter. Sahlma’s story exemplifies a child labor definition.4

Sahlma lived with her parents and three younger siblings in Nepal until a massive earthquake destroyed many of the homes and buildings in her community. After the earthquake, Sahlma’s parents went to work in a nearby village. Temporarily leaving their children so they could work was a difficult decision, but it was their only option to provide for their family. So, at only 9 years old, Sahlma was responsible for herself and her three younger siblings.

Sahlma began working as a porter carrying heavy loads in a basket on her back across steep, mountainous trails. This work is physically and emotionally demanding and is very dangerous for children. Sahlma’s parents noted the difference in their daughter, saying, “Sahlma lost her smiling face due to hard labor as a mountain porter [at] such a young age.”4

Staff from GFA World’s Child Sponsorship Program in the village Sahlma’s parents were working in heard about their family’s situation. They enrolled Sahlma in the program and provided meals, school supplies and other essentials. With this financial help, Sahlma didn’t need to work anymore. Instead, she could enjoy school and being a child.

Sahlma’s story of hope would not be possible without generous donations to GFA World’s Child Sponsorship Program. You can help protect children like Sahlma from child labor by sponsoring them. For $35 a month, you can help a child, their family and their community break the cycle of poverty through community-wide solutions, which may include opportunities for education, medical care, protection against malnutrition, access to clean water and more. Through sponsorship, children feel loved, wanted and hopeful. Even more importantly, children can experience God’s love firsthand!

Please consider sponsoring a child today.

Learn more about girls’ education

1 “What is child labour.” International Labour Organization. Accessed January 2022.–en/index.htm.
2 “Worst Countries for Child Labor.” World Atlas. 15 January 2019.
3 “Global Estimates of Child Labour.” International Labour Office. 2016.—dgreports/—dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575499.pdf.
4 “A Burden Falls Off Preteen’s Back.” GFA World. January 2022.