Hundreds of millions of children worldwide are involved in child labour, with 18 countries named as using children in cotton production and nine in garment production, according to a new report.

The latest edition of the US Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor notes that a commitment among global governments to combat child labour must be upheld not only in law but in practice.

Child labour can be reduced or eliminated, the report suggests, by tackling the root causes of poverty and addressing the vulnerability of households to economic shocks through education, social protection, and decent work strategies.

The 14th edition of the report was prepared in accordance with the Trade and Development Act of 2000 (TDA), which has an expanded country eligibility criteria for several preferential tariff programmes to include the requirement that beneficiary countries implement their commitments to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 168m children worldwide still work, half of them in hazardous situations and 6m of them in forced labour. In Central and South Asia, many children work in cotton cultivation, with many in the latter region working as forced and bonded labourers in textiles and manufacturing.

In the clothing and textiles sector, child labour was most commonly used in cotton production, with a long list of countries named as using children for the planting and harvest of cotton.

These included: Argentina, Azerbaijan, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Egypt, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mali, Pakistan, Paraguay, Turkey, Tajikstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Zambia.

Cambodia, China, India and Nepal were also highlighted for the use of child labour in textiles production.

The report also draws attention to children involved in garment and footwear manufacturing, reporting that they are typically exposed to loud noise, extreme temperatures, sharp tools, dangerous machinery and dust. Countries highlighted here include Argentina (often involving Bolivian migrant workers), Bangladesh, Brazil (often involving street children), China, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Bangladesh

  • Around 18.5% of working children aged 5-14 are working in the industry sector, which includes footwear, garments, textiles, jute textiles, and leather.
  • In 2014, the Bangladesh Government made a “moderate” advancement in its efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, forming the National Child Labor Welfare Council, and hiring 152 new labour inspectors. The Council, however, did not meet last year, and the country's legal framework does not protect children working in informal economic sectors, including small farms, where child labour is most prevalent.
  • Last year, the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) filed six cases of child labour violations with the Bangladesh Labor Court. However, the report states that information on the number of labour inspections and number of child labour law violations and penalties issued is not available, and that inspections rarely occur at unregistered factories and establishments, where children are more likely to be employed.

Suggested Government actions: Hire and train a sufficient number of labour inspectors for the size of Bangladesh’s workforce; Publish information on the number of labour inspections, child labour law violations and penalties issued; Ensure inspections are carried out at unregistered factories and small businesses frequently; Integrate child labour elimination and prevention strategies into the National Education Policy.

Cambodia

  • Around 15.7% of working children aged 5-14 are working in the industry sector, which includes production of textiles, including bleaching, dyeing and finishing with chemicals; and garments.
  • In 2014, Cambodia made a “moderate” advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training (MOLVT) created 24 inter-departmental inspection teams, which include a child labour inspector, and significantly increased the number of inspections and trained inspectors to conduct investigations. They do, however, lack sufficient resources to adequately monitor this issue.
  • Last year, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training (MOLVT) conducted 723 inspections; 613 were of garment and textile factories. Inspectors found a total of 46 cases of violations of child labour in garment and textile factories, which included 34 cases found by a joint inspection team with the Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) programme. Inspectors issued warnings to ten garment and textile factories.
  • In 2014, the Department of Child Labor increased the number of inspectors trained to conduct child labour inspections to 58 from 35 the previous year. But while the MOLVT has around 342 inspectors nationwide, only those trained in child labour inspection look for such violations.

Suggested Government actions: Institute and enforce a compulsory education age that is, at a minimum, equal to the minimum age for work; Ensure regular inspections for child labour violations; Provide sufficient resources for the enforcement of child labour laws to ensure inspections are conducted throughout the country; Approve a new National Plan of Action on the Worst Forms of Child Labor; Ensure all children have access to free quality education.

India

  • Around 33.1% of working children aged 5-14 are working in the industry sector, which includes manufacturing garments, weaving silk fabric with a handloom, production of raw silk thread, spinning cotton thread and yarn, embellishing and embroidering textiles, and sewing beads and buttons to fabric.
  • Around 56.4% work in the agriculture sector, which includes producing hybrid cottonseed, picking cotton, and ginning cotton.
  • In 2014, India made a “moderate” advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. The Government implemented its National Child Labor Project to assist child labourers through the provision of loans and alternative livelihoods, and several social protection programmes to address the root causes of child labour. However, it is still prevalent and basic legal protections for children remain weak.
  • Legislation to prohibit work by all children under the age of 14 and to proscribe hazardous work for children under age 18 was approved by the Prime Minister’s Cabinet in 2012, but it has yet to be passed by Parliament.

Suggested Government actions: Rafity ILO C182 - Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999; Establish a minimum age for employment at both national and state levels; Increase the penalties for employing children in the worst forms of child labour; Work with state governments to develop State Action Plans for its elimination; Reduce barriers to education access.

Uzbekistan

  • In 2014, Uzbekistan made efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, but was also complicit in the use of forced child labour in the cotton sector. While the Government made efforts to prevent and to remediate forced child labour in cotton production, Uzbekistan is receiving an assessment of no advancement because of its complicity in forced child labour.
  • In committing to end this practice, last year the Cabinet of Ministers declared its intent to ensure no one under aged 18 would participate in the cotton harvest; broadly communicated this through awareness-raising campaigns; and sponsored after-school programmes as an alternative to child labour. The Government also led a monitoring effort utilising ILO methodology to observe the 2014 harvest in all cotton-growing regions of the country, finding 41 child labourers, assessing penalties to 19 school officials and farm managers for the use of child labour, and removing children from the fields.
  • According to the report, there is a lack of current data on child labour in Uzbekistan. However, evidence from multiple, independent sources shows that during the 2014 harvest, some local officials mobilised children to pick cotton, in contravention of the Government’s official prohibition. Additionally, there have been limited reports that during the pre-harvest season, some children are forced to cultivate cotton.
  • Any reduction, however, in the mobilisation of children has been offset by an increase in the compulsory use of adult labour, including of teachers, further exacerbating the issue over children receiving education.

Suggested Government actions: Target labour and criminal inspections in areas where hazardous child labour is known to occur, especially in the cotton sector; Allow independent observers unrestricted access to monitor the cotton harvest through unannounced site visits; Publish updated information on investigations and convictions related to the worst forms of child labour; Integrate child labour elimination and prevention strategies into the Education Sector Plan; Revise policies that mandate cotton harvest quotas to help prevent forced involvement of children in the cotton harvest; Ensure hotlines for child labour practices are fully operational.