Joint ILO/UNICEF report

ILO/UNICEF: Social protection contributes to reducing child labour

A new ILO-UNICEF report calls for the closing of the social protection coverage gap that means 1.5 billion children are still unsupported by family or child cash benefits.

News | 18 May 2022

GENEVA (ILO News) – Social protection reduces family poverty and vulnerability, thereby diminishing key drivers of child labour, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The role of social protection in the elimination of child labour: Evidence review and policy implications, presents evidence from a number of studies conducted since 2010 that show how social protection - by helping families cope with economic or health shocks - reduces child labour and facilitates schooling.

However, too little progress has been made in ensuring that all children enjoy social protection, says the study. Worldwide, 73.6 per cent, or some 1.5 billion children, aged 0-14, receive no family or child cash benefits. This large protection gap must be closed and closed rapidly, the report says.

“There are many reasons to invest in universal social protection but eliminating child labour has to be one of the most compelling, given its pernicious impact on children’s rights and wellbeing,” said Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General.

Governments have a range of policies they can deploy to promote social protection. If policymakers do not act decisively, the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing conflict, rising poverty, and climate change will only increase the prevalence of child labour, the study says.

More than 160 million children worldwide – 1 in 10 children aged 5-17 – are still engaged in child labour, and progress has stalled since 2016. These trends were present even before the COVID-19 crisis. It is estimated that without mitigation strategies, the number of children in child labour could rise by 8.9 million by the end of 2022, due to higher poverty and increased vulnerability.

There are many reasons to invest in universal social protection but eliminating child labour has to be one of the most compelling."

Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General
To strengthen social protection systems for the prevention and elimination of child labour, the report makes a number of recommendations:
  • Close the social protection coverage gap for children. This means prioritizing child benefits, as well as extending social protection to the two billion workers in the informal economy, thereby supporting their transition from the informal to the formal economy.
  • Build integrated social protection systems. Reducing child labour will be easier if countries have a social protection system that provides adequate benefits throughout the life cycle, from child and family benefits, maternity and unemployment benefits to old-age pensions, as well as health protection.
  • Ensure that the design of social protection programmes is inclusive and child-labour sensitive. This will help maximise child labour reduction and requires:
    • Implementing child and family benefits that reach all households with children, especially those in situations of greatest vulnerability.
    • Making it easy for caregivers to receive their social protection benefits by simplifying registration procedures and providing different benefit payment mechanisms
    • Complementing social protection programmes with increased investment in universal, quality, basic education and other vital social services for children.
  • Build on the strong political commitment that already exists to end child labour and establish universal social protection to strengthen consensus for action. The Sustainable Development Agenda and the strong consensus agreed by the International Labour Conference in 2021, as well as the outcome of the Durban child labour conference, can help coordinate international initiatives.
  • Promote investment in social protection systems as a driver of development. Nearly all countries have the scope to mobilize domestic resources to progressively invest in reinforcing their social protection systems for children,