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Child Labor in Asia

The Asia-Pacific region has the largest number of child workers in the 5-14 age group in the world some 127 million, about 60% of working children worldwide.
~ ILO Report on Labour and Social Trends in Asia and the Pacific, 2005

Child Labor in South Asia

What is "CHILD LABOR"?

There is no universally accepted definition of child labor. "Child labor" is, generally speaking, work for children that harms them or exploits them in some way (physically, mentally, morally, or by blocking access to education).
Garbage Picker, India 1993

Is all work is bad for children?

Some child workers themselves think that illegal work should not be considered in the definition of "child labor." The reason: These child workers would like to be respected for their legal work, because they feel they have no other choice but to work.

On the outskirts of Dhaka, children heat and mix rubber in a barrel at a balloon factory.

A boy works in a tea stall in a small village in Nepal. Nepal is one of the world's poorest countries, forcing huge numbers of children to do hard labor. For a majority of children in Nepal, education is a luxury.

A young Pakistani girl carries a load of wool down a street in a poor section of Peshawar. Pakistan has laws that limit child labor, but the laws are often ignored. An estimated 11 million children work in Pakistan's factories.

A young Burmese boy climbs on top of piles of teak wood in a government-run lumberyard in Pyin Ma Bin. The boy's job is to label the teak wood. The wood is common in Myanmar and is in high demand in Japan and most of Asia.

Sakina, 9, and Javed, 6, work on a carpet loom at a small workshop in Kabul. Afghanistan's deep poverty forces many children to work in adult jobs.

This 9-year-old girl used to work long hours weaving rugs in a carpet factory. Today, she is enrolled in a Rugmark school in India. Rugmark is an organization working to end child labor and provide educational opportunities for children. For child laborers all over the world, education is the ticket to a better future.

Circus performers, India 1995

Children work long hours, practice dangerous acts, and only the best and those who manage to survive continue their lives as performers. A circus may have dozens of small children; there are few teenagers and fewer adult performers.

Garbage Pickers, India 1993 and 1995

Electroplate worker, India 1993: The educated use of protective equipment by electroplaters is extremely important in preventing contact with various metals and acids. The minimum protective equipment should include gloves, aprons, boots, and chemical handlers' goggles. Aprons should come below the top of the boots.

Metal workers, India 1995: Children in factories such as this make polished metal tableware. They use high speed polishing machines and the noise in these factories is overwhelming. No doubt most of the workers suffer hearing loss from the loud noise.

Carpet Weaver, Nepal 1993: There are between 60 and 115 million child laborers in India; of these, at least 15 million work as bonded laborers. Bonded labor refers to working in a condition of servitude in order to pay a debt. Most often the debt is incurred by a child's parents or relatives. The debt is paidoff by labor. Children sold into debt bondage work long hours for many years in order to pay the debt.

In India and Nepal there are an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 children who work as bonded laborers making carpets. Shop owners say that they need the good eyesight and fine fingers of children to make carpets. However, adults, not children, produce the h ighest quality, more finely-knotted carpets.

Brick worker, India 1993 Throughout much of the world, bricks are made by hand. Even a small brick factory may produce as many as 500,000 bricks per year. Each brick weighs between one and two kilograms (2.2-4.4 pounds). A small child may haul over 1,000 bricks on his/her head or back each day.

Stone quarry workers, India


In many quarries the stones are broken by hand. Because of the large amounts of dust, the work is quite dangerous. Workers are at extreme risk of developing silicosis (scarring of the lungs) and a related disease, silico-tuberculosis.

Why do parents make their children work?

While the proportion of girls among out-of-school children dropped sharply in most of Asia since 1990 (to 49%), the proportion of out-of-school girls in South Asia is 60 per cent or higher.