LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Almost 170 million youth are trapped in child labor, deprived of education and facing a life without decent jobs, the International Labor Organization (ILO) said on Wednesday.
From India's brick kilns to the cotton fields of Uzbekistan and Bolivia's sugar plantations, child laborers are more likely to have to settle later in life for unpaid work for the family or low-paying jobs, the ILO said in its annual "World Report on Child Labor".
"Children who drop out of school and join the labor force early are more disadvantaged later in life because of a lack of education and basic skills," Patrick Quinn, a senior ILO advisor told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Despite an overall decline in child laborers by one-third since 2000, some 5 million children remain in slavery-like conditions, making up a quarter of the world's modern-day slaves, the ILO said.
The Asia-Pacific region has the largest number of child laborers with almost 78 million, or 9.3 percent, while sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate with 59 million or more than 21 percent.
Many of them are working under conditions that deprive them of a nurturing and protective environment, and expose them to stress and trauma, the ILO said.
More than half of all child laborers - 85 million - put their health at risk by working in hazardous jobs, such as mining and construction, said the report, released ahead World Day Against Child Labor on Friday.
Rising youth unemployment, which stands at 75 million globally, can also drive child labor as poor job prospects may stop parents from investing into their children's education, the report said.
The ILO urged world leaders when they decide on new development goals in September to come up with a coherent policy to tackle child labor and the lack of decent jobs for youth.
Decent work means employment that is productive and delivers a fair income, job security, social benefits and equal opportunities.
QUALITY EDUCATION IS KEY
A global push for access to primary education as part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals has helped to push the overall child labor numbers down, Quinn said.
The number of child laborers aged five to 14 dropped to 120 million in 2012, from 186 million in 2000, he said.
The decline has been less rapid among older children, as many leave school early and are forced to work to make money for their impoverished families, particularly in rural areas.
Between 20 to 30 percent of children in low-income countries are working by the age of 15 and even more leave school before that, the report said.
"It will not be possible to achieve overall child labor elimination without addressing child labor among older children," the report said.
A lack of quality education can be a reason why children drop out school, Quinn said.
For example India, one of the countries with the highest numbers of child laborers, has been pinpointed by organizations such as the World Bank for the poor quality of its schools.
Another key concern for the ILO is the 47.5 million youth aged 15 to 17 - above the minimum working age but not yet adults - who are working in hazardous jobs.
"This is still a very high number and a clear indication that there is a lack of decent job prospects for young people in that age group," Quinn said.
(Writing by Astrid Zweynert, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)