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International Partnerships

Empowering women and girls to end child labour

2021 is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour which calls on all of us to raise awareness of the importance of the eradication of child labour, and to share best practices.


We are publishing an article every month on different themes related to child labour. For March and International Women’s Day we are turning our attention to the contribution of women in reducing child labour and the presence of girls in child labour.

Every child deserves a peaceful and secure childhood and the chance to go to school. This is still being denied to 63 million girls around the world who are engaged in child labour, many of whom are suffering the worst forms of child labour.

The specific challenge facing girls

From the recently published “Child Labour, Global Estimates 2020, Trends and the road forward”, out the 160 million children in child labour, 39% are girls. However, this figure does not include household chores in children’s own homes.

The gender dimension of child labour is important to consider as there are differences in how girls and boys are involved in child labour and girls may face specific risks. Girls in child labour are much more likely to be in services, including domestic work, which is generally under-reported. Domestic work, including in third-party households is a form of child labour that is usually hidden from public view and beyond the scope of labour inspectorates, leaving girls especially vulnerable to abuse.

When the definition of child labour expands to include household chores for 21 hours or more each week, which is categorised as hazardous, the gender gap in prevalence among boys and girls aged 5 to 14 is reduced by almost half. Worldwide, 7.1 million children are engaged in forms of domestic work that constitute child labour. Of these, 4.4 million (or 62%) are girls, and 2.5 million (or 57%) are aged 5-11 years.

Specific measures to end child labour amongst girls:

  • Enact explicit laws and put in place enforcement mechanisms and child protection interventions to counter the risks faced by all children, but especially girls, engaged in domestic work.
  • Implement community-based dialogue, social and behaviour change interventions, and parenting programmes to help counter unequal gender norms that encourage overburdening girls with household chores in their own homes.
  • Implement cash transfer and other social assistance programmes designed to diminish financial barriers to quality education and learning for girls.
  • Increase flexible learning paths so that all girls benefit from quality education and provide more support to girls to pursue education that leads to more equal employment opportunities in all sectors, including in fields such as science and technology.

Women socio-economic empowerment to fight child labour

Women can play a crucial role in the fight against child labour. Let’s examine some approaches that can make a difference.

Education is a central element to the tackling of child labour, especially the education of women and girls. When women are educated, their children are less likely to be involved in child labour and hazardous work. By improving the literacy and numeracy skills of women, poverty is reduced, which is one of the main drivers of child labour.

Empowering women economically is another powerful means of reducing child labour. When women can generate income and be provided with greater access to finance to start or grow small businesses, the impact on communities, especially children can be transformative. When women can generate additional income, families can be lifted out of poverty and children are more likely to stay in school. Additional income also helps families better deal with shocks, such as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and mitigate the need to rely on children for labour.

Women should be actively and equally involved in child labour eradication programmes and when they are, they are more likely to succeed. For example, when more women are employed as child labour monitors, monitoring programmes improve. Without the leadership and commitment of women to the cause of ending child labour, they are doomed to fail from the outset.

All of these approaches are aimed at empowering women to be the change makers in their families and communities. When women are provided with the support and means to take decisions on behalf of their families, children are less likely to drop out from school and become involved in child labour.

Women and girls must be at the centre of all solutions for the eradication of child labour!

The European Union’s commitment on women and girls

The EU is already committed to taking action to support gender equality in its international cooperation. To help eradicate child labour, the EU is promoting wider access for women and girls to quality education and skills, the creation of decent jobs and income generation activities for women. Expanding social protection systems, and improving legal frameworks, taking into account the specific country context and situation of women and girls are also part of the EU actions.

CLEAR Cotton project incorporating a gender focus and empowering women

In implementing the EU funded CLEAR Cotton project in Pakistan with International Labour Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is working in cotton growing communities to empower women to reduce child labour.

They conducted a study with the Punjab Economic Research Institution (PERI) on ‘Gender Roles – Related Work Burden – and their Effects on Child Labour in Agriculture in Punjab’. The research demonstrates the clear link between child labour and the distribution of tasks and responsibilities on farms at the household level, which has different implications for boys and girls.

The work burden of the whole family is dependent on three crop cycles per year, however, the limited income from the same crops does not allow for the investment in more profitable and stable revenues or the education of children.

That’s why FAO is assessing the agri-food market to identify viable economic opportunities to implement Income Generating Activities for women in small-scale farmers' and households. Women will be trained to form social cooperatives or self-help groups, and accompanied to invest in children’s education.

Engaging women in the community, Bahawalpur, Pakistan. Credit Irshad Ali for FAO.
Engaging women in the community, Bahawalpur, Pakistan.
Credit Irshad Ali for FAO. / Credit Irshad Ali for FAO.

What else is happening for the International Year

Laura Pausini, the famous Italian singer and the Grammy and Golden Globe winner, is one of the judges for the International Year’s song competition, see a tweet from the ILO with the announcement and watch a video of Laura Pausini here. Remember that to compete songs should be entered before 12 April. Find out more information about the song competition here.


Additional resources

  • International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour website
  • Submit Action Pledges for the International Year before the end of March here.
  • Watch the launch event of the International Year on 21 January 2021 here.
  • Find out more about the ILO Conventions on child labour and their recommendations here.
  • Read our article on the launch of the International Year here.
  • Read our article on the song competition launched for the International Year here.