Protecting Children’s Human Rights

International human rights agreements extend the right to education to all children around the world.  Education is one of the best ways to protect children from child labor, child trafficking and child marriage.

Child Labor

In 2004, there were 218 million children engaged in child labor, over half of whom were toiling in hazardous work, involving dangerous conditions, long hours or hazardous machinery.  Household poverty forces millions of children out of school and into paying jobs or, especially for girls, domestic chores.  Children who work 30 hours a week or more are unlikely to attend school.  Research indicates that those children who combine work and school have lower levels of academic achievement.   In countries with the largest gender disparities in education, young girls carry a disproportionately large share of the household labor burden.

According to the International Labor Organization, full-time school attendance is generally incompatible with the worst forms of child labor, and children who are in school are largely shielded from the potential negative effects of work that is not hazardous by nature, whether economic activity or domestic chores. A major research study found that the elimination of child labor and its replacement by universal education yields enormous economic benefits, exceeding costs by a ratio of 6.7 to 1.

Child Trafficking

According to UNICEF, hundreds of thousands of children are trafficked worldwide each year for sexual exploitation or slave labor.  Child trafficking imposes devastating physical and psychological costs on trafficked children, as well as their families, their communities, and their nations.  Getting girls and boys into school and keeping them there is a vital step in reducing their vulnerability to trafficking. This is especially true of children who are ‘hard to reach’, such as children living on the streets, who are especially vulnerable to being recruited into child labor or to being trafficked.

Children who have been trafficked, as well as children who have been out of school for other reasons, may need help to catch up with learning or may not be able to fit immediately into the school system. In sparsely populated areas and other places where the formal school system is not well represented, non-formal education and skills training may be part of the response to address child trafficking.

Child Marriage

The negative consequences of child marriage are numerous and especially harmful for girls, their children and their communities.  These consequences include poorer health outcomes for young mothers and their children as well as higher risk of HIV, and higher experiences of violence and abuse among girls married before age 18. Evidence also suggests early marriage results in lower levels of education and persistent poverty among girls.

According to the International Center on Research for Women, girls’ education is the most important factor associated with age at marriage. Secondary education specifically emerges as the factor most strongly associated with reduced prevalence of child marriage, but primary education was the most important for younger girls, many of whom marry at an early age. Therefore, promotion of education at all levels is an effective way to address child marriage.

Key Facts

  1. In 2004, there were 218 million children engaged in child labor, with 166 million of them between the ages of 5 and 14.
  2. The proportion of children engaged in economic activities in sub-Saharan Africa is the highest of any region at around 26 percent.
  3. According to the International Labor Organization, around one million children are trafficked worldwide each year for sexual exploitation or forced labor.
  4. One in seven girls in the developing world marries before age 15. Marriage of young girls is most common in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, as well as parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.
  5. An estimated 14 million adolescents between 15 and 19 give birth each year. Girls in this age group are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth as women in their twenties.

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