No back to school fun for child labourers

It’s that special time of the year for kids in many countries as they start heading back to school. And for those who have discovered the fun of learning, school is an adventure!

Sep 23, 2022

Child workers in a shipyard in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Shutterstock/Dietmar Temps)

                  Making a Difference Tony Magliano

It’s that special time of the year for kids in many countries as they start heading back to school. And for those who have discovered the fun of learning, school is an adventure!

But for millions of working children worldwide, the adventures of a new school year remain but a dream. Sadly, these children will never learn to read or write. They will not acquire computer skills. They will not experience singing in chorus, going on field trips, or playing at recess. Their classrooms will be sweatshops, farm fields, and battlefields. Their days will be filled with long, dirty, dangerous work. And the lesson they will learn is that life is cruel and unfair.

And worse yet, there is no light at the end of this cruel and unfair tunnel. In fact, the darkness is growing. In the last few years, the number of child labourers, instead of decreasing, has increased by more than eight million, to a worldwide total of 160 million – that’s one in 10 children. And according to International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director-General, Guy Ryder, before the end of this year it is likely that there will be an additional nine million child labourers – with many of them labouring in extremely harsh and dangerous conditions.

According to the ILO, 79 million of these children are trapped in hazardous work. And even more tragic is that approximately eight million children are enslaved in the worst forms of child labour – the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, drug dealing, forced recruitment to fight in armed conflicts, prostitution and pornography.

And worst of all, according to the ILO every year about 22,000 children are killed while working (see:

The ILO has several excellent resources to assist us in helping to end child labour (see:

One of the main reasons children do not attend school, and work instead, is because adults in countless families in poor nations have not had access to a good education, learning a viable trade, or are subsistence farmers who are unable to grow enough food for their families. Thus, it sadly becomes imperative that children must work.

Ryder emphasised that “universal social protection” that provides families with income security in difficult times – including child, maternity, and family benefits, unemployment support, old age pensions and health care – greatly helps families cope during economic or health shocks, thus eliminating the need to put their children into work.

Ryder said that government leaders need to put these policies into place along with measures that ensure decent work for adults and quality education for all children. Let’s lobby our political leaders to do exactly that (see: and

The US McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Programme is an excellent example of how government spending in the right places can truly make a difference in the lives of those most in need. Since its inception 20- years ago, this congressional programme has provided over 5.5 billion school meals benefitting over 31 million school-age children and their communities (see:

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation laments that inequalities in access to education are keeping 244 million children out of the classroom (see:

“How can we build the world we want, beat the climate crisis, and achieve justice, when four in 10 children don’t even finish secondary school?” So, please sign the Avaaz petition calling for a global treaty to ensure that every child should have the right to free education from pre-primary through secondary school (see:

(Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist. He can be reached at

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