Child labour

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7361.401 (Published 24 August 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:401

Vast problem whose effects on children's health remain largely unstudied

  1. Thomas J Scanlon, consultant in public health medicine. (T.Scanlon@ich.ucl.ac.uk),
  2. Vivien Prior, research fellow,
  3. Maria Luiza Nobre Lamarao, lecturer.,
  4. Margaret A Lynch, professor.,
  5. Francesca Scanlon, acting consultant in child psychiatry.
  1. Centre for International Child Health, Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust, University College London, London WC1N 1EH
  2. Department of Political and Social Sciences, Federal University of Pará, Belém, Pará, Brazil
  3. Department of Community Paediatrics, Guy's, Kings' College, and St Thomas's School of Medicine, Newcomen Centre, Guy's Hospital, London SE1 9RT
  4. Princess Royal Hospital, Haywards Heath, Sussex RH16 4EX

    Child labour today represents the largest single cause of child abuse across the globe. Most of it takes place in economically less developed countries, and much is hidden. In a minority of instances the effects of child labour may be neutral or even positive, such as helping out in a family run shop during school holidays. In recent years therefore the emphasis has shifted from the abolition of all forms of child labour to the elimination of intolerable and hazardous child labour. The International Labour Organisation estimates that worldwide 110 million children aged 5-14 years are engaged in labour that can be described as hazardous or intolerable.1 Most of this takes place in Asia and the Pacific, although the highest prevalence is in Africa, where children younger than 14 years make up a third of the total workforce.1

    Slavery, bonded labour, prostitution, and the recruitment of child soldiers are all intolerable and illegal. Yet in central and west Africa alone an estimated 200 000 children are traded each year.2 Landlords can bond a child worker for as little as US$1.50 (£0.95, €1.50), and family debts are manipulated so that there is no hope of repayment. The commercial sexual exploitation of children is increasing, and organised networks can be found in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and, most recently, eastern Europe. An estimated 1 million children in Asia alone are victims of the sex trade, much of it focused around sex tourism.3 Paradoxically, …

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