2016 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Sub-Saharan Africa

2016 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

Sub-Saharan Africa
Africa Regional Outlook 2016
Child Labor Information by Country
Child Labor Information by Region
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Meaningful Efforts

  • Increased resources for criminal law enforcement agencies to combat the worst forms of child labor.
  • Adopted policies that aim to increase the capacity of law enforcement.
  • Launched new and expanded existing social programs to prevent or eliminate child labor.

Challenges and Existing Gaps

  • Children continue to be recruited and used in armed conflict.
  • Key international conventions on child labor have not been ratified.
  • Labor inspectors lack the resources necessary to enforce child labor laws.
  • Social protection programs are insufficient to address the scope of the problem.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 70 million children, or 22 percent of all children in the region, are engaged in child labor. Figure 9 provides an overview of the regional outlook. This is the first time since global estimates were released in 2000 that Sub-Saharan Africa has surpassed all other regions in terms of the absolute numbers of children in child labor.(1) Children perform dangerous tasks in agriculture, mining, and domestic work. In 2016, 6 of the 47 countries covered in the region received an assessment of Significant Advancement: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, and Uganda. Other countries in the region also made meaningful efforts to address child labor by providing additional resources for criminal law enforcement agencies to combat the worst forms of child labor, adopting policies that aim to increase the capacity of law enforcement, and launching new and expanding existing social programs to prevent or eliminate child labor. Nevertheless, more work remains to be done to prevent and eliminate child labor in Sub-Saharan Africa, including by addressing the continued recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, ratifying international conventions on child  labor, increasing resources for labor inspectors to enforce child labor laws, and adopting social protection programs to prevent and eliminate the worst forms of child labor.

In 2016, 4 countries made meaningful efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, but also continued a regressive or significantly detrimental policy or practice during the reporting period that delayed advancement in eliminating the worst forms of child labor. Mauritania required proof of marriage and biological parents’ citizenship in order to get a birth certificate, preventing many children from being registered at birth and accessing secondary education. Sierra Leone did not permit pregnant girls to attend school or take national exams. Somalia recruited and used children in armed conflict in violation of its own law, which sets the minimum age for military recruitment at 18. Tanzania regulated access to secondary education through successful completion of the Primary School Leaving Exam, which students may take just once; however, as students complete primary education at the average age of 14, children in Zanzibar who fail the exam are both barred from formal education and unable to legally work, as Zanzibar’s minimum age for work is 15 years.

Three countries also had a policy or demonstrated a practice of being complicit in the use of forced child labor in more than an isolated incident in 2016: South Sudan’s national army forcibly recruited and used children in armed conflict; local chiefs in Swaziland forced children to engage in agricultural and domestic work; and Eritrea forced children to participate in agricultural, environmental, or hygiene-related public works projects during the annual summer holidays from school.

Countries increased resources for criminal law enforcement agencies to combat the worst forms of child labor. The Government of Mauritania created new Regional Anti-Slavery Courts to prosecute crimes related to slavery and provide free legal assistance to victims, including children. Niger trained district and magistrate courts on trafficking in persons and illicit migrant smuggling, and conducted awareness campaigns about the forced begging of children. The Government of Nigeria established an anti-human trafficking training center to increase the capacity of law enforcement officials to combat child trafficking for labor and sexual exploitation. The Kenyan police also developed a Child Protection Unit to investigate cases of child exploitation, including commercial sexual exploitation of children. In addition, Botswana sponsored a human trafficking training that included judges, prosecutors, and police officers from 10 Sub-Saharan African countries, and Mali trained child protection officials on best practices for child soldier referrals.

During the year, countries adopted new policies that aim to prevent and eliminate the worst forms of child labor, including several policies that aim to increase the capacity of law enforcement. Gabon adopted an action plan that aims to increase prosecutions for child trafficking crimes and shorten the length of time that victims spend in shelters awaiting trial. Chad approved a national policy that aims to strengthen the capacity of their labor inspectorate to combat the worst forms of child labor. The Central African Republic also launched a National Recovery and Peacebuilding Plan that aims to disarm and reintegrate children associated with armed groups, and Guinea-Bissau adopted a Code of Conduct Against Sexual Exploitation in Tourism. In addition, countries in the region also supported regional policies to address child labor, including its worst forms (Table 5).

Table 5: Key Regional Policies Related to Child Labor in Sub-Saharan Africa



Bilateral Agreements to Combat Child Trafficking

Agreements between Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali that call for increased cooperation against cross-border trafficking in persons.(2-6) The Government of Burkina Faso has established monitoring committees to review the agreement with Côte d’Ivoire and Mali.(6) Burkina Faso’s National Training Institute of Social Workers partners with its counterpart in Chad to share experiences and best practices in combating human trafficking.(3)

Treaty of Amity and Cooperation

Framework to strengthen cooperation between Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso to combat child trafficking and prevent child labor in artisanal gold mines.(5)



During the reporting period, countries also launched new and expanded existing social programs with the goal of preventing or eliminating child labor. Mali launched the National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Program for former combatants, including children. Niger started a program to reduce child labor in agriculture, and Madagascar launched a program with the ILO to reduce child labor in vanilla-producing areas. Many governments in the region also conducted awareness-raising campaigns for targeted sectors, including Sierra Leone’s anti-child labor campaigns in fishing and quarrying communities, and Liberia’s program to prevent children from street vending in urban areas. In addition, five governments — Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, and Uganda — adopted or expanded cash transfer programs to ensure that vulnerable children are able to attend school. Countries also participated in a regional program to combat child labor (Table 6).

Table 6: Key Regional Social Programs to Address Child Labor in Sub-Saharan Africa



Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) Against Child Labor

South-South cooperation project supported by the ILO. In January 2016, government officials from Angola, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Timor-Leste met and developed a Plan of Activities for 2016: CPLP’s Year Against Child Labor. In August, the group reviewed the results achieved under the Plan, and began developing a system to monitor and evaluate activities.(7, 8)


Despite the gains made in addressing child labor during the year, Sub-Saharan Africa faced many challenges. In 2016, terrorist activity and civil conflict impeded governments’ ability to address the worst forms of child labor. The terrorist group Boko Haram recruited nearly 2,000 children in Nigeria and neighboring countries for use in armed conflict.(9) As a consequence, more than 1.4 million children in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region have been displaced from their homes, and some children have been forced to drop out of school.(10, 11) In addition, children in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Somalia, and South Sudan were forcibly recruited and used for armed conflict by non-state armed groups; children were recruited and used for armed conflict by state armed groups in Somalia; and children were recruited, sometimes by force, by South Sudan’s national army.

Although the governments of Mali and Mauritania ratified the ILO Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labor Convention in 2016, there is still an urgent need for governments to ratify international conventions on child labor. Nine countries — Central African Republic, Comoros, Gambia, 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. 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. In addition, five countries have not ratified the Palermo Protocol, including Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda.

Gaps in labor law enforcement remain in many countries in the region. Twenty-nine countries did not have a sufficient number of labor inspectors for the size of the workforce according to the ILO’s recommendation, and 41 labor inspectorates had inadequate financial resources to effectively enforce child labor laws. Labor inspectorates in 14 countries also are not authorized to assess penalties for child labor violations. In addition, most countries’ law enforcement bodies did not collect comprehensive statistics on child labor and lacked resources and trained personnel.

During the reporting period, 6 countries lacked a national policy to guide efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. Most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa also do not have national social protection programs to cope with the effects of poverty and to provide vulnerable children with access to education. Furthermore, many countries in the region do not have social programs that target sectors  with a high prevalence of child labor and did not participate in regional programs to combat child labor during the reporting period.


1.            International Labor Organization. Global estimation of child labour 2016: Main results and methodology. Geneva,  September 2017.

2.            ILO Committee of Experts. Individual Observation Concerning Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) Burkina Faso (ratification: 2001) Published: 2013; accessed November 6, 2014; http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=1000:13100:0::NO:13100:P13100_COMMENT_ID,P11110_COUNTRY_ID,P11110_COUNTRY_NAME,P11110_COMMENT_YEAR:3076211,103033,Burkina Faso,2012

3.            U.S. Embassy- Ouagadougou. reporting, February 19, 2016.

4.            Ouattara, D. Fight Against Cross-Border Child Trafficking, [blog] October 31, 2013 [cited November 23, 2013]; http://www.dominiqueouattara.ci/en/news/fight-against-cross-border-child-trafficking.

5.            Government of Burkina Faso and Government of Côte d'Ivoire. Traité d’Amitié et de Cooperation République de Côte d’Ivoire-Burkina Faso. Ouagadougou; 2014. http://www.diplomatie.gouv.ci/userfiles/file/Cooperation%20bilaterale/TAC%20OUAGA%202014%20RAPPORT%20CONSEIL%20CONJOINT%20DE%20GVT.pdf.

6.            Embassy of Burkina Faso official. E-mail communication to USDOL official. April 20, 2015.

7.            Organização Internacional do Trabalho e o Secretariado Executivo da CPLP (SECPLP). ""Formação de Pontos Focais para a área do Trabalho Infantil dos Países da CPLP"," in V Reunião dos referidos Pontos Focais; January 27, 2016; Lisbon; http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=10&ved=0ahUKEwjq0O__roHQAhVEzoMKHTa5DYMQFghOMAk&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cplp.org%2FAdmin%2FPublic%2FDownload.aspx%3Ffile%3DFiles%252FFiler%252Fcplp%252FTRABALHO%2BINFANTIL%252FV-RPF-Trab_Infantil_Jan2016_Lisboa%252FAta_V-Reuniao-PFs-TI.pdf&usg=AFQjCNHT9hUQlIyGnYM3LpqgWiMdTl4tSA.

8.            Comunidade dos Países de Lingua Portuguesa. "CPLP Reforçou Combate ao Trabalho Infantil." cplp.org [online] August 30, 2016 [cited http://www.cplp.org/id-4447.aspx?Action=1&NewsId=4514&M=NewsV2&PID=10872.

9.            UNICEF. At Least 65,000 Children Released from Armed Forces and Groups Over the Last 10 Years, UNICEF. Press Release. New York/Paris; February 21, 2017. https://www.unicef.org/media/media_94892.html.

10.          UNICEF. Children on the Move, Children Left Behind: Uprooted or Trapped by Boko Haram; August 2016. https://www.unicef.org/media/files/Children_on_the_Move_Children_Left_Behind.pdf.

11.          Sophie Morlin-Yron. Africa's Silent Refugee Crisis: 12.4 Million on the Run in their Own Countries January 11, 2017. http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/11/africa/africa-silent-refugee-crisis/index.html?utm_source=Media+Review+for+January+17%2C+2017&utm_campaign=DMR-+EN+-+1%2F17%2F2017&utm_medium=email.


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