The International Labor Organization, or ILO, warns that the global financial crisis could push more children, particularly girls, into child labor. The ILO is highlighting the plight of girls in a new report that finds girls are just as likely as boys to be forced into some of the most hazardous forms of child labor. The report is being released in advance of the World Day Against Child Labor, which falls on June 12.
Child labor is an equal opportunity employer. It does not discriminate between boys and girls. The new ILO report finds that nearly half of the 218 million child laborers around the world are girls.
More than half of the girls are forced to work in prostitution and pornography or in bonded labor in hazardous work in agriculture, mining and quarrying.
Patrick Quinn, co-author of the ILO study, says children as young as five work long hours for little or no pay. He says all children are vulnerable, but girls run particular risks. He says girls very often are entrapped in hidden work situations, which leave them open to abuse.
"For example, children in child domestic labor, possibly working a long way from their families and their communities," said Quinn. "The fact that they may be physically weaker than boys."
"They may be exposed to sexual exploitation in some situations, the fact that girls bear a double burden very often of working both in the home and in other economic activity outside the home. These various factors put girls very often in a situation of having multiple disadvantages," he added.
In 2006, the ILO reported that there were 218 million child laborers around the world. This was a significant decrease from the 246 million child laborers reported four years earlier.
Frank Hagemann, the Head of Research and Policy at the ILO, says he fears that the current global economic crisis will reverse the decline in child labor.
"Not in all regions, but particularly in Latin America and a stabilization of child labor in Asia and also in Africa," he said. "We now risk that this positive, generally positive trend is going to be reversed through declining commodity prices on the one hand, through credit constraints on the other hand. In the recession and with declining household income, children are put out of school and put into work. And girls are often among the first."
The report finds a strong link between child labor and education. The ILO says that when forced to make a choice, poor families will send their boys rather than their girls to school. So not only do girls lose out on education, but they also are in danger of being forced into labor.
The ILO says that investing in the education of girls is an effective way of tackling poverty and protecting girls from child labor.