In a report released Monday, the International Labor Organization warns that one child in eight worldwide works under conditions that can cause physical or mental damage.
The International Labor Organization believes that "significant progress" has been made in the decade since it launched its campaign against child labor, but it says much more remains to be done.
The ILO study, called "A Future without Child Labor", says that around the world about 246 million children between the ages of five and 17 are working. And the report says well over half of these, 180 million children, work in hazardous industries, such as mining or construction.
A spokeswoman for the U.N. agency, Carolyn O'Reilly, says this is very troubling. "We are not saying categorically that there has been a decline in child labor, the indications are that perhaps there has been," she said. "What we do know, what is alarming about these figures is [the] proportion of working children who are engaged in the worst forms of child labor and that's the 180 million figure."
The ILO says most of the young people in these hazardous jobs are part of the so-called "informal economy. They have no legal protection and are exposed to situations that jeopardize their physical, mental or moral well-being.
According to the ILO, nearly 8.5 million children are used as slaves, prostitutes or forced into the military as soldiers.
The report also urges countries to take action to ensure that children go to school rather than to work. ILO chief Juan Somavia points to Brazil as a country that has found a way to encourage parents to send their children to school. The Brazilian government gives subsidies to parents who send their children to school to compensate them for the income the children would have earned by working.
Mr. Somavia says the wider issue of global unemployment also needs to be addressed to deal effectively with the problem of child labor. "If we don't put back the full employment agenda on the table as part of the whole decent work objectives of the ILO, we're not only going to have problems dealing with child labor, we going to have problems dealing with the stability and the security of our societies," he said.
The ILO is pressing all United Nations members to ratify its treaty outlawing the worst forms of child labor. So far 115 countries have done so, but child labor still persists in many of these countries.