Measuring Child Labour

The child labour estimates from the UCW programme, an inter-agency research cooperation initiative involving the International Labour Organization, UNICEF and the World Bank, are derived from survey data from several sources.

As UCW explains:

“The data sets included in the UCW database are from ILO SIMPOC surveys, World Bank multi-purpose household surveys, UNICEF MICS surveys and a variety of labour force and other national household surveys. Based on comprehensive interviews with a stratified sample of households, these nationally-representative surveys provide information on the nature and key characteristics of child labour, as well as on links between child labour and a range of household and community background variables. Although efforts are made to harmonize the child labour-related questions used in the survey questionnaires, significant differences remain across the different survey instruments in this regard. Cross-country comparisons of child labour estimates, therefore, should be interpreted with caution. Further information on how the data were collected and their reliability can be found on the relevant websites of the three agencies.”

Operational Definition of Child Labour

As explained by UCW:

“Based on the international conventions  and [a foundational] International Conferences of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) resolution, and consistent with the approach utilized in the ILO global child labour estimates exercise, the statistical definition of child labour used in the UCW database comprises the following three groups of children:

a. children aged 5-11 years in all forms of economic activity. The inclusion of this group derives from ILO Convention No. 138, which stipulates a minimum age (at least 12 years in less developed countries) below which no child should be allowed to work, where work implies “economic activity”. For the purposes of comparability, the minimum permissible working age for this indicator is set at 12 years. It should be noted, however, that Convention No. 138 allows ratifying states some flexibility in setting minimum ages, and in some countries the minimum working age is set higher than 12 years. Children in economic activity, in turn, are those engaged in any economic activity for at least one hour during the reference period. Economic activity covers all market production and certain types of non-market production (principally the production of goods and services for own use). It includes forms of work in both the formal and informal economy; inside and outside family settings; work for pay or profit (in cash or in kind, part-time or full-time), or as a domestic worker outside the child’s own household for an employer (with or without pay).

b. children aged 12-14 years in all forms of economic activity except permissible “light” work. The inclusion of this group also derives from ILO Convention No. 138, which stipulates a minimum age (at least 14 years in less developed countries) below which no work except “light work” should be permitted, where work again implies “economic activity”. For the purposes of comparability, 12-14 years is used as the age range for which light work is allowed; it should be again noted, however, that Convention No. 138 allows ratifying states some flexibility in setting minimum ages. “Light work” is operationally defined as economic activity that (i) does not exceed 14 hours per week and that (ii) is not hazardous in nature. The choice of this time threshold was based on provisions in ILO Convention (No. 33) on the Minimum Age (Non-Industrial Employment), 1932, which sets two hours per day, on either school days or holidays, as the maximum for light work from the age of 12 years.

c. children and adolescents aged 15-17 years in hazardous work. ILO Conventions No. 138 and No. 182 state that the specific types of employment or work constituting hazardous work are determined by national laws or regulations or by the competent authority. From a strictly legal standpoint, in other words, there is no standard international list of hazardous jobs and occupations. In order to permit international comparisons, hazardous work is measured using the hazardous list and estimation methodology utilized by the ILO in producing its global child labour estimates. Based on the ILO estimation methodology hazardous work comprises the following: (i) children or adolescent engaged in designated hazardous industries…(ii) children and adolescents employed in designated hazardous occupations … and (iii) children or adolescents who worked long hours during the reference week. Long hours are defined for the present purpose as 43 or more hours of work during the reference week.”

“The expanded definition of child labour included in the UCW database also considers one additional group of children as child labourers:

d. children aged 5-14 years performing household chores for at least 21 hours per week. Household chores, in turn, consist of services performed without pay for consumption within an individual’s own household, such as cooking/washing up, indoor cleaning and upkeep of abode, care of textiles, installation, servicing and repair of personal and household goods, outdoor cleaning and upkeep of surroundings, minor home improvements, maintenance and repair. They also include the care of family members and the procurement of household goods and services. The inclusion of this groups marks recognition of the fact that the international legal standards do not rule out a priori children’s production outside the System of National Accounts (SNA) production boundary from consideration in child labour measurement. The ICLS resolution, building on this recognition, recommends classifying those performing hazardous household chore as part of the group of child labourers for measurement purposes. The ICLS resolution does not recommend a specific hours threshold for classifying household chores as hazardous (and therefore as child labour), and cites establishing hazardousness criteria as area requiring further conceptual and methodological development. In the absence of detailed statistical criteria for hazardousness, an hours threshold of 21 weekly working hours is used in the database, above which performance of household chores is classified as child labour. It should be kept in mind, however, that this threshold is based only on preliminary evidence of the interaction between household chores and school attendance, and does not constitute an agreed measurement standard.

The UCW database aggregates the distribution of working children by five industrial categories (sectors of employment):

  1. Agriculture
  2. Manufacturing
  3. Construction, mining and other industrial sectors
  4. Commerce, hotels and restaurants
  5. Other services

The category ‘Agriculture’ comprises activities in agriculture, hunting forestry, and fishing. The grouping ‘Construction, mining and other industrial sectors’ includes construction, mining and quarrying and public utilities (electricity, gas and water). The category ‘Commerce, hotels and restaurants’ comprises wholesale, retail trade and restaurants and hotels. The grouping ‘Other services’ covers transport, storage and communications, finance, insurance, real estate and business services, other community, social and personal service activities, private household with employed persons and activities of extraterritorial organizations and bodies.”

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