Child labor across the developing world: patterns and correlations

Child labor across the developing world: patterns and correlations

Agriculture and poverty are key determinants of national child labour rates

This background paper to the 2007 World Development Report presents a comparative study of child labour across 65 developing countries. Drawing on data originally obtained from household sample surveys conducted between 1993 and 2003, the authors construct a detailed profile of child economic activity and child labour, identifying similarities and differences across regions and between genders. The study examines the correlation with country income levels, and the relationship between child labour, agriculture, and poverty.

Findings from the study include:

  • roughly one in five children work, though there exists significant variation across countries, while one in three children work in the African countries studied
  • boys outnumber girls among the economically active child population, except in the group of African countries
  • on average, out of every ten working children, roughly seven are in agriculture, two in services, and one in manufacturing
  • in countries where few children work, school attendance is higher
  • in some regions children combine work with school, but in some of the regions studied, working children tend not to attend school at all
  • there is a negative correlation between child labour and per capita income, but this relationship is not linear. Changes in income produce the largest change in child labour rates at very low levels of income
  • there is significant variation in the incidence of child labour even at similar levels of income, which indicates that factors besides poverty could increase or reduce the incidence of child labour
  • even after controlling for income levels and illiteracy in the economy, the size of the agriculture sector in the economy remains strongly associated with the incidence of child work.
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