Hesperian Health Guides

Causes of child labor

Every day 20,000 people visit the HealthWiki for lifesaving health information. A gift of just $5 helps make this possible!

Make a giftMake a gift to support this essential health information people depend on.

HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 24: Children who work > Causes of child labor

Family poverty, debt, or being orphaned often force children to work instead of going to school.

Unemployment and no living wage

Working adults should be paid enough in a regular work week to support their family. However, low pay, unstable employment, and unemployment among adults keep many families in poverty. Export factory jobs usually do not pay enough for families to survive, so even children have to work.

Employers often recruit child workers because they can pay them less than adults. Yet they expect the children to work the same as adults.

The false promise of job training

Children and young people sometimes work for little or no pay because the job promises to teach them skills for a job in the future. In many countries it is legal for the factory to offer internship wages. But then they try to get away with paying young people these lower wages for longer periods.

Illness and lack of health care

HIV, TB, malaria, and lack of health care weaken people’s ability to care for their children, who are often forced to work to make up for a missing or ill parent. These diseases can be prevented and treated when people have access to medicines and health care, and jobs that pay enough for them to eat a healthy diet and live in healthy conditions.

a boy and a man standing outside a school and thinking; a smaller boy stands with them.
If I can’t go to school then I want to work so I can help my family.
I may not have enough money to pay their school fees next session.

School is not possible

Although many countries have laws that say all children can go to school, many children are still denied education. Schools might not be affordable, or may be far away and there is no transportation. Girls often leave school to work to pay for their brothers’ school fees or are pressured to marry young.

This page was updated:06 Mar 2018