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Despite the fact that many people believe that slavery no longer exists, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that there are some 8.4 million children in slavery or practices similar to slavery (ILO,2002).  Although the ILO acknowledged that the data on which these estimates were based was “partial and incomplete”. 

They are all in child slavery, as defined by the 1956 UN Supplementary Slavery Convention.  In these cases, as well as being in a hazardous situation, there is an intention to exploit these children for someone else’s gain. This group of children includes:

  • Children who are used by others who profit from them, often through violence, abuse and threats, in prostitution or pornography , illicit activities, such as forced begging, petty theft, and the drug trade;
  • Forced child labour, for example in agriculture, factories, construction, brick kilns, mines, bars, restaurants or tourists environment
  • Children who are forced to take part in armed conflict. They don't only include child soldiers but also porters or girls taken as “wives” for soldiers and militia members. There are about 300,000 child soldiers involved in over 30 areas of conflict worldwide, some even younger than 10 years old. Children involved in conflict are severely affected by their experiences and can suffer from long-term trauma.
  • Child domestic workers, many of whom are forced to work long hours, in hazardous and often abusive environments, for little or no pay, and often far from home;


  • There are 215 million child labourers aged between 5 and 17 years old (ILO 2010).
  • 115 million children work in the worst forms of child labour (ILO 2010).
  • 53 million children under 15 years old are in hazardous work and should be "immediately withdrawn from this work" (ILO 2010).
  • 8.4 million children are in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment for armed conflict, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities (ILO 2002) 

CHILD WORK, CHILD LABOUR, child slavery?

Child work

Some types of work make useful, positive contributions to a child's development. Work can help children learn and develop particular skills that will benefit them and the rest of society. Often, work is a vital source of income that enables children to help sustain their families.

Child labour

According to the ILO, however, there are over 200 million child labourers around the world.  Child labour is not slavery, but nevertheless hinders children’s education, development and future livelihoods. For example, children who are working below the legal minimum age for employment. 

Worst forms of child labour

Of the children in child labour, some 115 million are engaged in “hazardous work,” otherwise known as the worst forms of child labour (ILO, 2010).  This is work that irreversibly threatens children’s health and development, through, for example, exposure to dangerous machinery or toxic substances, and may even endanger their lives. The worst forms of child labour also include the 8.4 million children in slavery and slavery-like practices, who are also subject to exploitation by others, and are the priority for us all to address.  

Child Trafficking

Trafficking involves transporting people away from the communities in which they live, by the threat or use of violence, deception, or coercion so they can be exploited as forced or enslaved workers for sex or labour. When children are trafficked, no violence, deception or coercion needs to be involved, it is merely the act of transporting them into exploitative work which constitutes trafficking.

Increasingly, children are also bought and sold within and across national borders. They are trafficked for sexual exploitation, for begging, and for work on construction sites, plantations and into domestic work. The vulnerability of these children is even greater when they arrive in another country. Often they do not have contact with their families and are at the mercy of their employers.

Child marraige

Marriage involving children under 18 years old remains a widely culturally accepted practice in many corners of the globe.  Estimates suggest that 11 per cent of women aged between 20 and 24 worldwide were married before reaching the age of 15 (UNICEF 2012).  There has been growing awareness about the negative consequences of child marriage, especially for girls, including the impact of marriage on children’s education, and risks to their physical and psychological health.  Child marriage can also often operate as a shield behind which slavery and slavery-like practices occur with apparent impunity.

Many marriages involving children will not amount to slavery, particularly between couples aged 16 to 18 years. However, many married children can experience levels of suffering, coercion and control that meet international legal definitions of slavery and slavery-like practices, including servile marriage, child servitude, child trafficking and forced labour. 

Estimates for the number of boys in marriage and information on their experiences are notably scarce.


International law forms the basis of Anti-Slavery’s our work against child slavery. The Conventions of the International Labour Organization, the 1926 and 1956 Slavery Conventions, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour are the major tools we use.

Article 1(d) of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (1956):

“Any institution or practice whereby a child or young person under the age of 18 years is delivered by either or both of his natural parents or by his guardian to another person, whether for reward or not, with a view to the exploitation of the child or young person or of his labour.”

Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989):

"State Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”

ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999) stresses that immediate action is needed to tackle the worst exploitation of children and the most hazardous forms of work that they do. The main provisions of the convention are to clarify which situations should be classified as the worst forms of child labour, and to specify what governments must do to prohibit and eliminate them as a priority. A copy of the full text of Convention 182 can be found on the ILO website.

Boy bonded labourer Pakistan (Sindh Province)
©Shakil Pathan/Anti-Slavery International


Restavek girl sat infront of piles of washing
Mideleine Chersetal is a 13 year old Haitian domestic worker. She works from 5am to 11pm each day. Her work includes taking her employer's children to school, but she is not allowed to attend school herself.
©Pete Pattisson -