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Why does child labour happen? Here are some of the root causes

Children are most often involved in child labour because their parents or guardians consider it ‘normal’ for children to work, and sometimes for children’s own survival and that of their families. When talking about child labour, it is important to understand it from the perspective of the children, families and communities themselves. Below are some of the root causes which make children particularly vulnerable to child labour.


‘Poverty is certainly the greatest single force driving children into the workplace.’ When families cannot afford to meet their basic needs like food, water, education or health care, they have no choice but to send their children to work to supplement the household income. Poverty is considered as one of the most important causes of child labour as it is linked to other driving factors including: low literarcy and numeracy rates, lack of decent work opportunities, natural disasters and climate change, conflicts and mass displacement. Poverty and child labour form a vicious cycle, without tackling one, we cannot eradicate the other.

Lack of access to quality education

‘The availability and quality of schooling is among the most important factors.’ School needs to be a welcoming environment, with appropriate class sizes, a curriculum designed for the local context, and affordable for rural communities. Getting children into school and out of harmful work is one thing but keeping them there a means creating quality education accessible for all.

Poor access to decent work

‘Children who were involved in child labour often lack the basic educational grounding which would enable them to acquire skills and to improve their prospects for a decent adult working life.’ If young people cannot access work which is safe, with social protection, fair pay, equality for men and women and which provides a space for workers to express their opinions, they often have no choice but to do work which is hazardous. When children above the minimum working age are doing hazardous work, this is also considered child labour.

Limited understanding of child labour

‘The view that work is good for the character-building and skill development of children.’ When families do not understand the dangers of child labour, and how these impact on the health, safety, well-being and future of their child, they are more likely to send their children to work. Some cultural beliefs and social norms can also be drivers of child labour.

Natural disasters & climate change

‘In rural areas, farmers who see their crops destroyed on account of climate changes have no other choice but to send their children out to work.’ The effects of natural disasters and climate change is one which is becoming of increasing concern. Rural families who depend on reliable seasons for farming are particularly vulnerable to altered patterns of rainfall, soil erosion, or extreme weather. When crops are destroyed or farming land is ruined, families struggle to make a living and are more likely to send their children to work in neighbouring farms.

Conflicts & mass migration

‘There is a strong correlation between child labour and situations of conflict and disaster’ According to the ILO children make up more than half of the total number of people displaced by war. These children are particularly vulnerable to forms of exploitation, including child labour, due to an increase in economic shocks, a breakdown of social support, education and basic services, and disruption of child protection services. The incidence of child labour in countries affected by conflict is almost twice as high as the global average. Children are also vulnerable to becoming involved in armed conflict, this is considered one of the Worst Forms of Child Labour.

Fighting child labour

SDG Goal 8.7 calls for the elimination of all forms of child labour by 2025. With 152 million children involved in child labour worldwide, we still have a long way to go. Programmes and policies which take into account the voices of the communities where child labour occurs, and the root causes, can advance real and sustainable progress in the fight against child labour.

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