According to recent estimates, approximately 152 million children were engaged in child labour globally in 2016 (ILO 2017a: 5). There are many forms of children’s work, involving different
levels of demand and danger. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines child labour as work that is detrimental to children, by depriving them of their childhood, their potential and
their dignity. Children’s work is sometimes distinguished as being hazardous or more benign (e.g., safe and does not undermine schooling), although this distinction is not relevant in all
contexts. In some cases, children’s work has the potential for both benefit and harm, and assessing harm and benefit in each context may be more useful than applying generalised
standards. The worst forms of child labour (as defined by ILO Convention No. 182) are out of scope for this review.
In many cases, work interferes with children’s formal education by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; forcing them to drop out prematurely; or requiring them to balance
the competing pressures of schooling and work. Since the launch of the global Education for All (EFA) movement, education is often understood to mean formal schooling. However, this
definition excludes non-traditional and informal spaces of learning, as well as significant forms of learning that happen in the workplace.
Many children’s rights organisations and anti-child labour campaigns believe that child labour and education are incompatible, that children’s work is an obstacle to EFA, that child labour
should be abolished and that education is a key element in its prevention. With regards to hazardous child labour, this view is widely accepted. However, there is a counterview which
argues that not all children’s work is bad, that children’s labour can be compatible with education and learning and that work can actually enable education.
This study examines evidence on the links between child labour and education, including the use of education as a tool to bring children out of child labour, poor quality education pushing children out of the classroom and into work, as well as on children who combine work and school. It is one of a two-part series of reports. The second report (Orrnert 2018) examines the evidence on short- and long-term impacts of education interventions targeting working children.
Key findings of this review include:
- There is a relatively large body of research on the links between child labour and education. Much of this focuses on whether child labour has a negative effect on educational outcomes. It does not necessarily account for the range of different work carried out by children across, and within, country contexts. The evidence on the causal relationship between child labour and education is mixed; causality can be difficult to establish (Brown 2012; Woldehanna and Gebremedhin 2015).
- Existing evidence is drawn primarily from four types of research:
– reviews of statistical survey data (e.g., Guarcello et al 2015, Rosati et al 2015, UNESCO 2015);
– large-scale and/ or longitudinal studies, using both survey and qualitative data (e.g., the numerous papers based on data from the Young Lives Study, such as Chuta 2014, Boyden et al 2016, Crivello and van der Gaag 2016, Morrow and Boyden 2018; also Quattri and Watkins 2016 large-scale Child Work and Education Survey);
– smaller-scale studies combining statistics and qualitative research (e.g., Kim 2009, Kraus 2016);
– qualitative case study or ethnographic research (e.g., Aufseeser 2014, ArkoAchemfuor 2014, Balagopalan 2018, Bourdillon ND).
- Survey data tends to portray children as either in or out of school, but qualitative data illuminates more dynamic realities; the educational trajectories of working children are seldom continuous or linear.
- Many children combine working with schooling. There is a body of research that suggests that rather than interrupting education, children’s work can in some circumstances enable it. In other cases, children may have to work, alongside their education, to support household income.
- Some researchers argue that rather than trying to end all forms of children’s work, interventions should support children in more ‘benign’ work to balance employment and schooling. There is widespread agreement, however, that all forms of harmful child labour should be banned.
- Key interventions to get children out of work and into education include: improving access to education (by, for example, reducing direct and indirect costs), providing flexible schooling arrangements, offering alternatives to formal education (including vocational, transitional and non-formal learning) and improving the quality of education infrastructure and learning. Holistic interventions that rely on integrated approaches can be effective (see, for example, Quatttri and Watkins’s 2016: 9).
- Evidence also highlights the danger of unintended negative consequences of education interventions and cautions against one-size-fits-all solutions.
This study identified a number of evidence gaps:
- There is a lack of evidence beyond the more general relationship between child labour and education. Additional research, (particularly, longitudinal studies) is needed to illuminate different kinds of work, a number of working hours, the impact of work on learning outcomes, as well as the variations in the way work affects schooling across countries.
- There is a need for more research on how poor quality education pushes children out of the classroom and into work, including the incentives, or lack thereof, of remaining in education when work can offer more viable routes to adult employment.
- There is a lack of research on the gender dimensions of child labour more generally (Dammert et al 2017: 3). Specifically, there is a need for studies on the gendered nature of new opportunities for paid employment among children, how these impact on conventional gender norms and practices as well as gendered time allocation between work and school (Singh and Khan 2016; Crivello and van der Gaag 2016; Dammert et al 2017).
- Despite a large number of children in both work and school, there is limited research on combining education and employment (Singh and Khan 2016).
- Whilst there is evidence that work can have a range of benefits for children, these are often ignored in discourses around child labour. More research is needed on how to maximise the benefits of children’s work and minimise the harm.
- There is a gap in up-to-date research, which examines the relationship between child labour and education as learning, rather than just formal education within the school system.
- There is a limited body of research on the long-term consequences of withdrawing children from family-based work to attend school (e.g., what knowledge or skills from this family-based work become lost? Are there other social consequences?).