Child labor: what are our common priorities?

When engaged in chard workchildren are deprived of learning and are often exposed to a multitude of physical problems and psychlogical prejudices. South Asia is home to about 664 millions of childrenTHE the largest population of children in any part of the world. To not answer child labor in the region will continue to pressure a lot vulnerable and marginalized children in a vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty.

A boy sitting cross-legged on a hard floor, using his hands to put glue on a leather sole, with many other soles arranged in a semi-circle in front of him.
A child working in a small business in the leather sector in Bangladesh. Credit: CLARISSA/IDS

Over the past five years, the ILO, UNICEF (Regional Office for South Asia and Innocenti- Global Bureau for Research and Foresight), And a civil society consortium led by the Institute for Development Studies worked on an FCDOFProgram on Child Labor in South Asia. These organizations focused on different countries, exploring and act on different dimensions of child labor and areas of complementary solutions, and using A wide range methods.

Common messages

As our collective efforts draw to a close in June 2024, program partners have shared their results and deliberated on findings, lessons learned, and the path forward. In January 2024, partners met in Kathmandu to identify common ground and common messages, as well as issues where further work may be needed to advance the common goal of ending child labor , including its worst forms. Despite some differences, we emerged from the program with a common set of messages and priorities for a roadmap for South Asia’s efforts to end child labor:

1. Actively integrate children’s voices and action into interventions through participatory processes is essential for the elimination of child labor and the promotion of children’s rights.

2. There is also a need to engage directly with communities to enable the elimination of child labor. This includes working children, parents, health workers, schools, local businesses, etc.

3. Eliminating the worst forms of child labor and sustainably removing children from it must be a priority. It is also an entry point to address the broader issue of child labor.

4. More emphasis should be placed on child labor in small businesses in the informal sector and in local and national markets. and understand the economics of small business.

5. The CLARISSA social protection pilot project highlighted that universal and unconditional cash transfers combined with on-the-ground work and support for community action is an effective combination. It is also essential that cash transfers are of sufficient amount to cover lost income due to child labor beyond school fees.

6. Greater emphasis on universal health coverage should be a priority in the fight against child labor. Child labor is often triggered by health crises. Families can often manage daily poverty, but cannot cope with the major financial implications of lost income and/or huge medical expenses, as well as the loans that almost inevitably result. In these circumstances, the only choice is often for the child to work.

7. The role of the education sector in eliminating child labor must be amplified. Advances in education have gone hand in hand with a reduction in child labor. In various contexts, stagnant progress is evident in both reduction of child labor and participation in education. Many children also combine study and work. Programs that make schooling more affordable (e.g., scholarships) or school reforms that extend the duration of compulsory schooling or the length of the school day can help prevent and reduce child labor, provided that the schools provide quality education.

8. It is important to understand and not lose sight of the gender dimensions of child labor which often make children more vulnerable. Many gender dimensions of child labor are invisible and often not captured in child labor statistics. Children are often socialized to accept deeply ingrained social norms that girls are more likely to be heavily involved in household chores or participate in paid domestic work. Girls’ education and future employment opportunities are also limited by prospects of child marriage.

9. It is important not to stigmatize child labor, but rather to strive to do something about it. There is a need to use evidence and findings from different programs so that countries understand the problem and are willing to take progressive steps to address it.

About the regional program on child labor in South Asia

The Action-Research-Innovation program on child labor in South and Southeast Asia (CLARISSA)

CLARISSA was implemented by a civil society consortium led by the Institute for Development Studies and including Terre des Hommes, Child Hope, CSC, Grambangla, CWISH and Voices of Children. The program focused on the worst forms of child labor in the leather sector in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and in the adult entertainment sector in Kathmandu, Nepal.

It aimed to (a) generate in-depth knowledge on PFTE dynamics (through participatory and qualitative research), and (b) generate and model innovative change processes (through 25 action research groups). It integrated participatory monitoring and evaluation processes and supported a social protection pilot project in Dhaka that combined universal and unconditional cash transfers with casework and community mobilization support. The program was designed to implement systemic, participatory and child-centered change processes at scale. To read the research and evaluation reports, visit For an immersive experience of children’s lives, visit


A UNICEF INNOCENTI research program exploring ways to strengthen the link between education and the reduction of child labor. Few studies have examined the impact of educational programs on work and child labor. The project focused geographically on India (Bihar and Telangana) and Bangladesh, and worked with regional knowledge partners including the Population Council India, Young Lives India and the Economic Research Group Bangladesh. The results provided an overview of secondary data and research on the links between child labor and education and a mapping of educational strategies, and generated primary and secondary research to identify effective and scalable educational strategies for fight against child labor in South Asia.

International Labor Organization (ILO)

The Asian Regional Child Labor Project (ARC) implemented by the International Labor Organization has been operational in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. Its overall objective was to strengthen countries’ capacities to reduce vulnerability to child labor and strengthen the protection of children against exploitation. It included: a research and advocacy component which produced both official child labor statistics and qualitative studies; a component on policy strengthening that improved existing child labor policies and enforcement mechanisms and supported national action plans to be updated and implemented; and a component on holistic community interventions which developed models for tackling child labor on the ground through local government structures, trade unions and business groups, supply chain actors, associations community groups, children’s clubs, youth organizations and schools.

The “Child Labor: Exploitation of Children in South Asia” program (CLECSAP)

CLECSAP was a five-year program implemented by UNICEF ROSA, UNICEF India and UNICEF Pakistan. Its vision was to protect children from economic exploitation, including those affected by disability and those who are on the move. CLECSAP aimed to achieve this objective by (a) supporting child labor programs with the generation of robust evidence at national and regional levels; (b) strengthen existing child protection structures and mechanisms through capacity development and a systemic approach; and (c) collaborate with community members and community mechanisms to prevent and combat child labor.