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Sub-Saharan Africa


2013 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor


2013 Regional Outlook

Meaningful efforts:

  • Improved legal and policy frameworks.
  • Improved availability of data on the worst forms of child labor.
  • Establishment and continued implementation of conditional cash transfer programs.

Challenges and existing gaps:

  • Limited adoption of hazardous work lists across the region.
  • Significant barriers to access education, including costs, limited number of schools, and lack of universal birth registrations.
  • Limited or weak labor inspection systems.
  • Insufficient social programs to address child labor.
  • Continued use of children in armed conflict

Region Summary

As a region, sub-Saharan Africa is home to 30 percent of the world’s child laborers and has the largest number of children working in hazardous conditions. An estimated 59 million children ages 5-17 are engaged in child labor, or 21.4 percent of all children in the region.(33) During the year, Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa, and Uganda received an assessment of Significant Advancement for making several meaningful efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.

During 2013, 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 establish and continue implementation of cash transfer programs. 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 legislation and enforcement, and implementing social programs.

During the year, legal frameworks were strengthened in several countries, including in Somalia through ratification of ILO C. 182, in Cameroon and Zimbabwe with ratification of the UN CRC Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, and in Zimbabwe through ratification of the Palermo Protocol. In addition, Angola amended the Penal Code to criminalize trafficking in persons; South Africa amended the Basic Conditions of Employment Act to include protections for children working without a contract; Nigeria’s Kano State prohibited children begging on the street; Uganda prohibited child pornography; and the Democratic of the Republic of the Congo issued two directives that provide protections to children affected by armed conflict. Additionally, four sub-Saharan governments launched or expanded efforts to improve access to basic education. The Government of Malawi made education compulsory; Namibia eliminated the requirement that parents contribute to primary school development funds; Swaziland extended free education through grade five; and Zambia eliminated examination fees for grades seven and nine.

Several governments also adopted or updated lists of hazardous work prohibited for children. These governments include Burundi, Sao Tome and Principe, Tanzania, and Madagascar. To strengthen enforcement of child labor laws, seven governments—in Nigeria, Djibouti, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Swaziland, Zambia, and Namibia—increased their number of labor inspectors. The Government of Ethiopia also developed a labor inspection guide, which includes child labor issues.

In 2013, the Governments of Liberia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Togo, and Uganda took the important step of conducting child labor research and releasing child labor data. In addition, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Mozambique adopted national action plans to prevent and eliminate child labor, and the Government of Côte d’Ivoire provided partial funding for its national action plan. During the reporting period, Governments in Comoros, Mauritania and Liberia also established new national committees to coordinate efforts to eliminate child labor and the Government of Malawi held its first ever Child Labor National Steering Committee meeting.

To help combat poverty and increase school enrollment, some countries implemented cash-transfer programs for children. During the year, Lesotho fully funded its Children’s Grants Program; Gambia continued to operate a conditional cash transfer program that provides services to more than 1,000 children rescued from forced begging; and Senegal launched a new conditional cash transfer program that requires beneficiaries to keep their children in school. In addition, a study on the Tanzania Social Action Fund Conditional Cash Transfer Program reported an increase in child school enrollment and a reduction in forced child migration and child labor. Other notable cash transfer programs include Kenya’s National Safety Net Program for Results, Ghana’s Livelihood Empowerment against Poverty, Nigeria’s National Poverty Eradication Program, South Africa’s Child Support Grants and the Old Age Pension, and Mauritius’ Social Aid and Income Support Programs.

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are making progress monitoring child labor and promoting efforts to address child labor at the local level. For instance, Malawi, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana operated child labor monitoring systems that enable communities to monitor, report on, and coordinate services for children in exploitative labor. At the local level, the Sodo town administration in Ethiopia enacted a directive that requires community members to report instances of child labor to the ward administration and includes small fines for those found using child laborers.

Despite the gains made in addressing child labor during the year, there is still an urgent need for governments to improve child labor legal frameworks and enforcement of existing child labor laws. Twelve countries have not yet ratified the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict; seven countries have not yet ratified the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography; and eight countries have not yet ratified the Palermo Protocol. Additionally, over a third of countries in sub-Saharan Africa still do not have hazardous work lists, and in many countries, labor laws do not cover all the sectors where children work.

Although there has been some progress in improving school enrollment, more needs to be done in the region to remove barriers to basic education. For instance, eight countries lack a compulsory education age, four of which are in Southern Africa. Sixteen countries also have compulsory education ages below the minimum age for employment. Many children are at risk of entering the workforce at a young age due to school fees and related costs, the limited number of schools, and physical and sexual violence in schools, especially in West Africa. 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 birth registration may be a barrier to enroll in school, graduate, or access social services for children if governments require birth certificates.

In 2013, only half of the region’s labor law enforcement agencies, and approximately three-fourths of its criminal law enforcement agencies, took actions to combat child labor, including its worst forms. Most countries’ enforcement bodies did not collect statistics on child labor and lacked resources and personnel, impeding efforts to identify and sanction child labor violations. In addition, although nearly three-fourths of countries in sub-Saharan Africa have established monitoring and coordinating mechanisms to manage government-wide efforts to combat child labor, less than half of these mechanisms took action in 2013.

Only a third of countries in Central Africa have national policies or action plans to address child labor, and national social protection policies and programs exist in only 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 the child labor problem.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Eritrea received an assessment of No Advancement as a result of government complicity in forced child labor. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, some elements of the Congolese National Army continued to abduct and forcibly recruit children for use in armed conflict and for labor and sexual exploitation. The Government of Eritrea required children to participate in a national program called Maetot, under which some children in grades nine through eleven engaged in agricultural, environmental, or hygiene-related public works projects for varying amounts of time during their annual summer holidays from school.

Children remain in Government armed forces in Somalia, and Government armed forces of South Sudan recruited and used children in combat. Rwanda and Mali also provided support to armed groups that used and recruited children for armed conflict. In the case of Rwanda, some children were forcibly recruited.

Although many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have implemented some of the suggested actions for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor from USDOL’s report last year, 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 social protection policies and programs, ceasing the use of children in armed conflict, and making improvements in legislation, access to education, and enforcement of child labor laws.

Further Resources