In emergency contexts, with the possible loss of livelihoods and access to education, and when families are separated and displaced, children become particularly vulnerable to child labour. Child labour can be defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, potential and dignity; work that is harmful to their physical and mental development because it is physically, socially, mentally or morally dangerous to children. It deprives them of the opportunity to attend school, obliges them to leave prematurely, or requires them to combine school attendance with long and heavy work.
At its most damaging, child labour involves children being trafficked across borders, forced into slavery and servitude, and separated from their families. These forms of child labour are known as the worst forms of child labour (WFCL), and are prohibited for all children under the age of 18.
When should we use programmes to provide support for children involved in child labour?
- When children have been separated from parents and caregivers
- When families are struggling to cope with meeting daily needs and/or struggle to find work
- In displacement contexts or where homes have been destroyed or damaged
Elements of a programme supporting children involved in child labour may include:
Removing children from the worst forms of child labour (WFCL)
Any child (under 18) found in forced or bonded labour, doing illicit work or being sexually exploited should be removed immediately from the situation, given case management and access to learning opportunities, and provided with support to help their financial situation. Children doing hazardous work (e.g. long hours, work with dangerous machinery, chemicals or heavy weights) should also be removed and supported; children above the minimum working age found in hazardous work may continue to be employed if the hazard is removed or the risk is reduced to an acceptable level. Organisations may need to refer these cases to appropriate authorities or specialised child protection services or NGOs.
Awareness-raising and advocacy
- Alert authorities, communities, parents, youth groups and children about the dangers of the WFCL and the importance of protecting children from the WFCL. Awareness raising is particularly successful when communities develop the messages themselves.
- Campaign with service providers, employers and authorities to respect and implement laws and regulations governing child labour and safe work for children
Providing access to education and psychosocial support for children involved in child labour
Child friendly spaces or other psychosocial support activities can be helpful in supporting working children, but the focus of many programmes on younger children and the working hours of children mean they may not access support services.
- Adapt existing responses to include appropriate opening hours or additional group sessions which will be accessible for working children
- Develop programmes to address the specific needs of adolescent boys
- Provide nonformal education programmes, including life skills training
- Support children to be reintegrated into formal education where possible
Connect children and caregivers to support that strengthens their livelihoods or economic circumstances
Loss of family income and livelihoods is the most significant risk factor contributing to children becoming involved in the WFCL, and so families’ needs must be met to prevent coping strategies that can lead to the WFCL.
- Conditional and unconditional cash transfers
- mentoring and support with vocational training
- income generating activities, employment and business training and support
- referrals into social welfare and social protection schemes
Supporting family tracing and reunification
Family tracing and reunification programmes can be appropriate where working children have been separated from their families, but need to ensure they take into account and address a broader understanding of the causes of separation and the motivating factors for the child becoming involved in child labour. Children in the WFCL can also be challenging to reunify with their families, especially if the child has made a choice to work and earn a living away from their home.
Tools and resources
Material on this page is primarily taken from:
- CPWG (2014), Responding to the worst forms of child labour in emergencies
- Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action – Standard 12, Child Labour
Additional tools and resources for support for children involved in child labour are here