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Sub-Saharan Africa

2014 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

2014 Regional Outlook

Meaningful efforts:

  • Improved legal and policy frameworks.
  • Improved availability of data on the worst forms of child labor.
  • Improved coordination of government efforts.

Challenges and existing gaps:

  • Limited adoption of hazardous work lists across the region.
  • Significant barriers to accessing education, including costs, lack of universal birth registration, and physical and sexual violence in schools.
  • Limited social protection policies and programs.
  • Continued recruitment and use of children in armed conflict.

Region Summary

Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the region with the highest incidence of child labor.(8) An estimated 59 million children ages 5-17 are engaged in child labor, or more than one in five children in the region. Nearly 29 million of these child laborers are engaged in hazardous work.(8) During the reporting year, governments in Sub-Saharan Africa made notable efforts to improve legal and policy frameworks related to child labor, increase the availability of data on the worst forms of child labor, and improve coordination of government efforts to combat child labor. Among these, four countries—Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, South Africa, and Uganda—received an assessment of Significant Advancement for making several meaningful efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. For the first time, the Democratic Republic of the Congo received an assessment of Moderate Advancement for efforts to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers. However, children in the region continue to engage in dangerous forms of agriculture and domestic service. More needs to be done to prevent and eliminate child labor in Sub-Saharan Africa, including by reducing barriers to education, improving child labor legislation and enforcement, and implementing social protection policies and programs.

In 2014, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone suffered from a devastating Ebola virus disease outbreak, resulting in governments redirecting resources to address this health crisis. Furthermore, thousands of children became ill or lost parents during the outbreak and many schools were closed. In addition, terrorist activity and civil conflict caused disruption of education systems in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan.

During the year, legal frameworks were strengthened in several countries. Angola, Eritrea, and Sierra Leone ratified the Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in Persons; Ethiopia, Ghana, and Guinea-Bissau ratified the UN CRC Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict; and Somalia ratified ILO C. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. In addition, Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Comoros, Madagascar, Seychelles, and Zimbabwe passed anti-trafficking-in-persons legislation; Chad criminalized the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict; and Guinea approved a new Labor Code with prohibitions against minors performing hazardous work.

To strengthen enforcement of child labor laws, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and Togo increased their number of labor inspectors; the Government of Benin updated its training curriculum for labor inspectors to include child labor. Seven governments—Burkina Faso, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Madagascar, Niger, and Senegal—made notable efforts to identify victims of child labor and referred the children to social service providers for care.

In 2014, the governments of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Niger, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda took the important step of conducting child labor research and releasing child labor data. Governments in Angola, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Namibia, Niger, and São Tomé and Príncipe established new national committees to coordinate efforts to eliminate child labor, including its worst forms. In addition, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Lesotho, and South Africa adopted national action plans to prevent and eliminate child labor.

Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are making progress in raising awareness of child labor. During the reporting period, 10 countries conducted public awareness campaigns on the commercial sexual exploitation of children, child trafficking, and child soldiers. Regional child labor committees in Madagascar organized workshops to raise awareness of child labor in the production of vanilla and the Government of Côte d’Ivoire established a Joint Declaration of Commitment with the media to combat child labor.

Children who attend school are less vulnerable to child labor. In 2014, governments made important efforts to increase access to education. The governments of Djibouti, Guinea, and Sierra Leone adopted education sector strategic plans to ensure that children have access to quality education. The Government of the Republic of the Congo worked with the World Bank to launch a Safety Net Program to improve access to education for the poorest Congolese children; the Government of Mali made progress in providing access to education by re-opening 74 percent of schools for the 2013-2014 academic year; and the Government of the Central African Republic established Temporary Spaces for Learning and Child Protection in internally displaced persons sites to provide safe learning environments for children. In addition, eight governments (The Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Senegal, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) launched or expanded cash transfer programs to ensure that vulnerable children are able to attend school.

Despite the gains made in addressing child labor during the year, there is still an urgent need for governments to improve legal frameworks and enforcement of existing child labor laws. More than 25 percent of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa still lack hazardous work lists, and in many countries, labor laws do not cover all of the sectors in which children work. In addition, of the 48 Sub-Saharan countries covered in the report, 11 (the Central African Republic, Comoros, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, São Tomé and Príncipe, Somalia, South Sudan, and Zambia) have not yet ratified the UN CRC Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict; 8 (Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Somalia, South Sudan, and Zambia) have not ratified the UN CRC Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography; and 4 (Comoros, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda) have not ratified the Palermo Protocol.

In 2014, most countries’ law enforcement bodies did not collect statistics on child labor and lacked resources and trained personnel, impeding efforts to identify and sanction child labor violations. Thirty-one countries had an insufficient number of labor inspectors and 14 countries had an insufficient number of criminal investigators responsible for enforcing the worst forms of child labor. In addition, 11 countries still lack coordinating mechanisms to manage government-wide efforts to combat child labor. Of the 36 countries with coordinating mechanisms, one third were inactive during the year.

More than 35 percent of the countries do not have national policies established to address child labor, and national social protection policies and programs exist in just over half of the countries in the region. Without social safety nets, vulnerable families may continue to rely on child labor to cope with the effects of poverty and economic shocks. In addition, although many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have developed social programs to address the worst forms of child labor, none of them is sufficient to address this problem.

There has been some progress in improving school enrollment; however, more needs to be done in the region to remove barriers to basic education. For instance, 8 countries lack a compulsory education age and 11 countries have compulsory education ages below the minimum age for employment, leaving children particularly vulnerable to child labor as they are not required to be in school, but are not legally permitted to work either.

Although laws and policies establish free and compulsory education, the costs of uniforms and school supplies, as well as unofficial school fees, may impede some families from sending their children to school, rendering them more vulnerable to child labor. In addition, in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, children are not registered at birth and, therefore, do not have birth certificates. The lack of national policies and programs that provide free birth registration may be a barrier for children to access education and social services in countries where governments require birth certificates for enrollment and participation. Physical and sexual violence in schools, especially in West Africa, also prevents many children from attending school. Civil conflict in West and Central Africa has led to the use of children in armed conflict, with some children forcibly recruited or kidnapped from schools.

Eritrea and South Sudan received an assessment of No Advancement as a result of government complicity in forced child labor. The Government of Eritrea required children to participate in a national program called Maetot, under which some children in grades 9 through 11 engaged in agricultural, environmental, or hygiene-related public works projects for varying amounts of time during their annual summer holidays from school. In South Sudan, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the country’s national army, recruited, sometimes forcibly, children to fight the opposition group.

Although many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa implemented some of the suggested actions for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor from last year’s report, there is still much to be done. There is a pressing need for governments to increase their efforts to effectively protect children from exploitation by establishing national social protection policies and programs, ceasing the use of children in armed conflict, reducing barriers to education, and making improvements in child labor legislation and enforcement.

Further Resources