The international community is set to miss its goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016 despite recent progress on the issue, says the International Labour Organization (ILO).

According to the latest ILO estimates, published in the lead-up to the Global Conference on Child Labour in Brasilia next month, the number of child workers around the world has fallen by one-third since 2000, from 246m to 168m.

Most progress has been made in the last few years, the ILO said, with the number of child labourers falling from 215m to 168m between 2008 and 2012.

More than half of that 168m is involved in hazardous work, defined by the ILO as work that endangers health, safety and moral development, but the numbers have halved from 171m in 2000 to 85m in 2012.

The ILO report notes that the largest number of child labourers is in Asia Pacific – almost 78m – but sub-Saharan Africa has the largest incidence of child labour, with over 21% of the population involved.

Agriculture accounts for the largest share of child workers (98m or 59%), followed by services (54m) and industry (12m).

“We are moving in the right direction, but progress is still too slow,” said ILO director-general Guy Ryder.

“If we are serious about ending the scourge of child labour in the foreseeable future, then we need a substantial stepping-up of efforts at all levels.”