2015 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Sub-Saharan Africa

2015 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

Sub-Saharan Africa
Africa map and infographic showing child labor statistics and advancement levels
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Meaningful Efforts:

  • Strengthened anti-child trafficking legislation.
  • Improved policy frameworks and coordination of government efforts.
  • New social programs with the goal of preventing or eliminating child labor.

Challenges and Existing Gaps:

  • Continued recruitment and use of children in armed conflict.
  • Prohibitions on hazardous occupations and activities for children do not meet international standards.
  • Limited capacity to enforce child labor laws.
  • Social protection programs are insufficient to address the scope of the problem.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 59 million children are engaged in child labor, or 21 percent of all the children in the region.[1] Children are engaged in child labor, largely in agriculture, mining, and domestic service.[2] In 2015, 3 of the 47 countries covered in the region received an assessment of Significant Advancement—Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Uganda. Countries in the region made meaningful efforts to address child labor by strengthening anti-child trafficking legislation, improving policy frameworks and coordination of government efforts, and implementing new social programs with the goal of preventing or eliminating child labor. Nevertheless, much needs to be done to prevent and eliminate child labor in Sub-Saharan Africa, including by ensuring that prohibitions on hazardous occupations and activities for children meet international standards, increasing the capacity to enforce child labor laws, implementing sufficient social protection programs to address the scope of the problem, and addressing the continued recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. In 2015, two countries made meaningful efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, but also established a regressive or significantly detrimental policy or practice during the reporting period that delayed advancement in eliminating the worst forms of child labor: Sierra Leone did not permit pregnant girls to attend school or take national exams, and Somalia recruited and used children in armed conflict. Three countries made meaningful efforts in relevant areas, which may have included suggested actions reported in 2014, but had a policy or demonstrated a practice of being complicit in the use of forced child labor in more than an isolated incident in 2015: Eritrea forced children to participate in agricultural, environmental, or hygiene-related public works projects during their annual summer holidays from school; South Sudan’s national army forcibly recruited and used children in armed conflict; and Swaziland forced children to weed the King’s fields and perform other agricultural work.

During the year, legal frameworks were strengthened in many countries. Somalia and South Sudan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Angola, Benin, The Gambia, and Senegal adopted or amended legislation to establish 18 as the minimum age for hazardous work. Benin, Cabo Verde, Liberia, and Senegal adopted or amended legislation to prohibit hazardous occupations and activities for children. Six governments—Cabo Verde, Ethiopia, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, and Togo—adopted or amended anti-child trafficking legislation. In addition, Lesotho, South Africa, and Tanzania passed implementing regulations for anti-human trafficking legislation.

To strengthen the enforcement of child labor laws, Côte d’Ivoire integrated a 50-hour module on child labor issues into the training curriculum for criminal law enforcement officers. Senegal prosecuted and convicted a Koranic school teacher for child trafficking, and Burkina Faso intercepted seven child traffickers posing as Koranic school teachers and rescued 43 children who were destined for agricultural work in Mali and Côte d’Ivoire. Police officers in Angola and the Republic of the Congo conducted mapping projects to better understand the nature of human trafficking in their respective countries. The Governments of Mali, Seychelles, and Sierra Leone established national referral mechanisms to ensure that victims of child labor, including child trafficking, receive appropriate social services. In addition, 25 governments conducted unannounced labor inspections during the reporting period.

In 2015, the Governments of Botswana, Central African Republic, Chad, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe established new national committees to coordinate efforts to eliminate child labor, including its worst forms. Six governments—Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, and Uganda—adopted or updated national action plans on the worst forms of child labor. Eight countries—Angola, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Madagascar, and Togo—launched new social programs with the goal of preventing or eliminating child labor. In addition, Kenya, Malawi, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia 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, Sub-Saharan Africa faced many challenges. In 2015, terrorist activity, civil conflict, and the Ebola virus disease outbreak impacted the governments’ ability to address the worst forms of child labor. The terrorist group Boko Haram continued to recruit and use child soldiers as young as age 8, and there was an increase in the number of children, particularly girls, used as suicide bombers in Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.[3] More than 1.4 million children in the four affected countries have been displaced from their homes as a result of the conflict. In 2015, 250,000 children were able to return to schools in Northeast Nigeria; however, 2,000 schools remained closed across Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria at the end of the year.[4] In addition, children in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Somalia, and South Sudan were forcibly recruited and used in armed conflict. Although the Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone appeared to be waning, nearly 23,000 children lost one or both of their primary caregivers to the disease, increasing their vulnerability to the worst forms of child labor.

There is still an urgent need for governments to improve legal frameworks and the enforcement of child labor laws. Of the 47 Sub-Saharan African countries covered in this report, 38 percent have prohibitions on hazardous occupations and activities for children that do not meet international standards. Ten countries, namely the Central African Republic, Comoros, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, São Tomé and Príncipe, Somalia, South Sudan, and Zambia, have not ratified the UN CRC Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Eight countries—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 five countries—Comoros, the Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda—have not ratified the Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in Persons.

Most countries’ law enforcement bodies did not collect comprehensive statistics on child labor and lacked resources and trained personnel, which impeded efforts to identify and sanction child labor violations. During the reporting period, 24 countries had an insufficient number of labor inspectors and the labor inspectorates of 40 countries had inadequate resources to effectively enforce child labor laws. Furthermore, 20 countries have labor inspectorates that are not authorized to assess penalties for child labor violations. Most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have national social protection programs; however, these programs can help provide vulnerable children with access to education through the provision of uniforms, school supplies, and unofficial school fees. Without social safety nets, vulnerable families may continue to rely on child labor to cope with the effects of poverty and economic shocks.


[1] ILO. Marking Progress Against Child Labour: Global Estimates and Trends 2000-2012. Geneva; 2013. http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_norm/---ipec/documents/publication/wcms_221513.pdf.

[2] Ibid.

[3] UNICEF. Beyond Chibok; April 2016. http://www.unicef.org/media/files/Beyond_Chibok.pdf.

[4] UNICEF. Beyond Chibok; April 2016. http://www.unicef.org/media/files/Beyond_Chibok.pdf.

UNICEF. Nigeria conflict forces more than 1 million children from school. Press Release; December 22, 2015. http://www.unicef.org/media/media_86621.html.

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