• Home
  • Data collection
  • Data analysis
  • Data dissemination
  • Statistics by area
  • Statistical tables
  • Statistics by country
  • Publications
Last update: Jan 2009

Child labour and education

A paper by UNICEF staff analyses data from Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) on child labour and school attendance from 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This page provides some highlights from the study. The full paper is available at the following link.


‘Child Labour, Education and the Principle of Non-discrimination’, by Elizabeth D. Gibbons, Friedrich Huebler and Edilberto Loaiza, UNICEF, Division of Policy and Planning, November 2005.


Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest share worldwide of child labourers. In the 18 countries in this region with data on child labour, 38 per cent of all children between 7 and 14 years of age are engaged in work that can be considered harmful to their development. Among these children, slightly more than half (20 per cent of the total) also attend school while another 18 per cent are only engaged in labour (see the graph below). Overall, 60 per cent of all children between 7 and 14 years attend school; 21 per cent of all children are neither in school nor do they engage in labour. These children may, however, perform work that is not considered labour, for example household work for less than 28 hours per week. 

                                   Activity status of children 7–14 years, sub-Saharan Africa


Although many children manage to combine work and school attendance, there is a clear trade-off between the two activities. The following graph plots the child labour and school attendance rates in 18 African countries. In countries with a high share of child labourers, school attendance tends to be low. At the extreme ends of the distribution are Swaziland, with a school attendance rate of 78 per cent and a child labour rate of 10 per cent, and Niger, with a school attendance rate of 30 per cent and a child labour rate of 72 per cent. 

                     Child labour and school attendance of children 7-14 years, sub-Saharan Africa

A disaggregation of the data on child labour, shown in the graph below, reveals large disparities that are hidden by the national averages. Overall, 38 per cent of children between 7 and 14 years of age from the 18 countries analysed are engaged in child labour. 
Children between 7 and 10 years are somewhat more likely to be labourers than children between 11 and 14 years. This is due to the definition of child labour: A boy or girl up to 11 years of age only has to spend one hour on economic work to be considered a child labourer. Older children have to spend at least 14 hours on economic work to be counted as child labourers. 
Because of the inclusion of household chores in the analysis, we are able to see that the share of child labourers among girls is the same as among boys, about 38 per cent. On the other hand, the area of residence is strongly associated with child labour: Rural children (43 per cent) work much more than urban children (25 per cent).


The highest share of child labourers is found among the poorest 20 per cent of all households. In this group, 45 per cent of all children are engaged in labour. By comparison, a child from the richest household quintile is almost half as likely to be working (24 per cent child labourers). Lastly, the education of the primary caretaker is also associated with the probability of child labour. If the mother or caretaker has at least primary education, her children are less likely to work than children of caretakers without a formal education. 

                                      Child labour by background characteristic, sub-Saharan Africa


Gibbons, Elizabeth D., Friedrich Huebler and Edilberto Loaiza, ‘Child labour, education and the principle of non-discrimination’, in Human Rights and Development: Towards mutual reinforcement, edited by Philip Alston and Mary Robinson, Oxford University Press, New York, 2005.