World Day Against Child Labour: New report highlights plight of children working as domestic labourers

Millions of children - there is no fixed number - work night and day outside of their family homes, toiling as domestic child labourers - fetching water, minding infants, cleaning the house or tending the garden. Nearly all are exploited, exposed to hazardous work and subject to abuse. All, without exception, are at risk because of the very nature of child domestic labour. This year's World Day Against Child Labour sheds new light on these children and what can be done to help them.

GENEVA - For Chedita, today's visit to the centre of Manila, where throngs of child domestic workers gather once a week to play, is literally a "walk in the park". But it wasn't always so. Like the children - mostly girls from poor rural areas - who come to the park once a week on their sole day off to meet others like them, Chedita once worked as a domestic child labourer, logging long hours for low pay, fearing her masters and struggling to get by on little sleep, and worrying about a future without an education.

But times have changed. Now she has her education and is the president of a group which helps other girls like her find a brighter future. With the support of the ILO, the group provides shelter, legal advice and counselling, to help child domestic labourers escape abusive employers and jobs, and has lobbied successfully for laws which will eventually eliminate the practice.

"There were many children in my family, we were poor and my father is disabled, so it is difficult for him to work," Chedita recalls. "So we decided that some of us have to work to support the others."

How Chedita became a child domestic labourer is typical of the experiences of millions of children like her. In India, 20 per cent of all children working outside the family home are in child domestic labour. Many suffer exploitation and abuse because working arrangements are largely informal and social protection non-existent. A wall of acceptance surrounds the practice, often considered a "better" alternative for children from poor families.

According to Dr. June Kane, author of the new ILO report, " Helping hands or shackled lives? Understanding child domestic labour and responses to it", the reality is very different. "We have constantly to remind ourselves that these children are not just doing odd jobs around the house. They are in the workplace - even if that workplace is someone else's home. But this workplace is hidden from public view, from labour inspection, and exempt from the safeguards we put in place in legitimate work sites. The children are consequently at risk not only of exploitation but also of abuse and violence. And we see too many such cases to think that they are the exceptions."

Not all child domestics end up without a future. ILO experience in Asia, Central and South America, and Africa shows that with strong social and national institutions, and income or credit options for the parents, children under the minimum working age can be successfully removed from domestic labour. The FNCCI, the employers' council of Nepal, has sponsored education for children who cannot immediately leave their jobs and attend school part-time.

"Child domestic labour is a waste of human talent and potential. With the help of constructive and sustainable solutions from the ILO technical cooperation programme, our constituents worldwide stand ready to put an end to this abuse," says Frans Roselaers, Director of the ILO International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).

As one Nepalese child domestic worker told the ILO, "When I see children playing in the park, I long to join them. I have to remind myself that I am just a servant." We have to remind ourselves that they are just children and that life for them should be "a walk in the park".

For the full report, "Helping hands or shackled lives? Understanding child domestic labour and responses to it", see

The third World Day Against Child Labour is focusing on the millions of children worldwide who are exploited as domestic labourers. A panel event in Geneva will discuss the latest ILO/IPEC report, "Helping hands or shackled lives? Understanding child domestic labour and responses to it". And around the world - from Costa Rica to Cameroon, Government and ILO officials, representatives of ILO social partners, community members and children, will take part in TV forums, conferences, campaigns, exhibitions and other events.

For more information on events for the World Day Against Child Labour, please visit

ILO study: Eliminating child labour will be costly, but will yield enormous economic benefits

Can child labour really be eliminated, and if so, how much would it cost? A new study says it can, and that the financial returns would vastly outweigh the societal investments. World of Work asked Peter Dorman, author of the study (Note 1) prepared for the ILO International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), how these costs and benefits were calculated.

World of Work: What are the costs and benefits of eliminating child labour?

Peter Dorman: We put the costs at around US$760 billion, while the benefits would be an estimated US$5.1 trillion in the developing and transitional economies, where most child labourers are found. This seems a huge commitment, but pales in comparison to other costs borne by developing countries. Average annual costs would amount to about 20 per cent of current military spending, or 9.5 per cent of debt service.

WoW: The ILO estimates that some 246 million children are currently involved in child labour. What are the main costs of removing them from work?

Dorman: The cost of increasing the quantity and quality of education to accommodate all the world's children formed nearly two-thirds of total costs. This entailed building new schools, training and hiring new teachers and supplying educational materials.

WoW: Still, child labourers provide vital income to their families. What happens when they stop working?

Dorman: There is an "opportunity cost of eliminating child labour" - the income families lose when their children are removed from work and sent to school. So we calculated the cost of setting up income transfer programs to compensate these families, and for intervention programmes to urgently eliminate the worst forms of child labour.

WoW: How did you calculate the benefits?

Dorman: The two major benefits - improved education and improved health - both translate into economic gains. With universal education for children to age 14, we calculated that each child would benefit from 11 per cent more future income for every extra year of schooling. Also, by eliminating the worst forms of child labour and the toll it takes on human health and productivity, many countries would experience tangible economic gains.

WoW: How can this be implemented?

Dorman: The study was based on an ideal, standardized programme. But in the real world, country-specific programmes, like those already set into motion by the ILO, are required to effectively eliminate child labour. The study has asked the right questions: What are the costs of taking children out of work and sending them to school? What are the long-term benefits? Now that we have these answers, there is a strong economic case behind the campaign to eliminate child labour.

Note 1 - Investing in every child: An economic study of the costs and benefits of eliminating child labour, ILO 2004, ISBN 92-2-115419-X. Available at, or can be downloaded in pdf format at For more information, see the press release at