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in Indonesia, a young girl smiles while leaning on an outdoor structure.

Child Labor Is on the Rise – Help Us Give Children a Better Future

Written by Peg Willingham, Save the Children’s Senior Managing Director for Food and Agriculture Partnerships

My mother grew up on a family farm, the sixth of seven children who all helped my grandparents with a seemingly endless list of chores – yet also had plenty of time to play, read, and go to school.  

Throughout my career as a diplomat, advocate, and fundraiser, I have been fortunate to meet with farming families all over the world.  One thing is universal: whether they are growing coffee or cocoa, rice or corn, all parents want their children to get the best start in life.  Unfortunately, child labor – legally defined as work that interferes with children’s physical and mental development and school attendance - is on the rise for the first time in two decades.  In fields and factories, construction sites and mines, children have been risking their safety, education, and sometimes their lives – even here in the U.S.  In fact, more than 10 states have adopted or are considering laws to weaken child labor protections, an alarming trend.

Deliberate exploitation happens all too often, but poverty is the main driver of child labor.  Other contributors include migration status and access to healthcare and education. Also, families have lost loved ones and income because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the increasingly severe effects of climate change rob families of their homes and livelihoods. 

Today is World Day Against Child Labor.  Shockingly, the International Labor Organization estimates that worldwide 160 million children are involved with child labor - and that number is expected to rise. Even more worrisome, half of these children are directly engaged in hazardous work that endangers their health and safety. All are being deprived of their rights, their dignity, and their full potential.

Save the Children’s founder created what is today the United Nations Convention on the Rights of  the Child, which prohibits child labor.  We’re working to end child labor in all its forms by 2025 by: 

  • Working with companies to reduce and ultimately eliminate child labor in their supply chains.
  • Advocating at global, regional, and local levels, including support for the European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, which was recently approved by the EU Parliament.   
  • Developing global standards to protect children’s rights.  With UNICEF, we’ve created the Children’s Rights and Business Principles.

Every child deserves a future.  We are proud to work with families, communities, governments, and partners to prevent child labor and we call on everyone to join us in this effort.  Learn more about our advocacy here and our partnerships here.