What Is Child Labor?

What Is Child Labor?

The question “what is child labor?” may seem outdated, a problem that belongs in the last couple of centuries rather than today. Since its zenith in the Industrial Revolution, child labor has rightly seen opposition, but it is still a major problem across the globe. Approximately 265 million children in the world—nearly 17 percent of the world’s child population are currently involved in child labor.[1] While progress is being made in resolving this issue, child labor remains present and prevalent, especially in the countries with the lowest standards of living. For example, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest incidence of child labor.[2]

So, what is child labor?


Not every kid who works is considered a child laborer. It’s considered a positive thing when children who are above the minimum age work at a job that does not negatively affect their health, development or schooling. This includes employment at a family business or earning extra pocket money after school or during breaks. These jobs assist a child in developing skills and experience, helping them become more productive members of society.

The International Labour Organization defines child labor as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.”[3] This includes jobs that are dangerous morally, physically or mentally to children and jobs that interfere with school, preventing a child from getting an education.[4]

A heartbreaking example of child labor is in commercial fishing. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, workers at sea are among the most vulnerable for child labor. James Kafi Annan’s story is typical of the workers trapped in the commercial fishing industry.

In Ghana, James was the youngest of 12 children, many of whom had already been given away to work. James was six when his father sent him to work in the fishing industry. James was first trafficked with five other children: of the six, only three lived. Many children died from the abuse from their traffickers or the rigorous work. These children, including James, worked extremely long hours on Lake Volta—3 am to 8 pm—with only one meal a day. James regularly got painful diseases that went untreated since he was denied medical care. When he asked for even a small concession from the boss, he was beaten, and despite all the hard work, he was not allowed to sleep because he had to do other tasks like mend nets or clean fish. It took James seven years to escape this slavery.[5]

With these facts about child labor in mind, GFA World is working to address this critical problem.


One way we combat child labor is through GFA World’s Child Sponsorship Program, which is active in Africa and Asia. Through the program, kids receive essentials such as nutritious food, healthcare, free tutoring assistance and school supplies. This eases burdens for families, making it possible for their children to attend school, be successful in school and receive an education, which opens opportunities for the future and makes it possible for them to break out of the cycle of poverty. For many years, children all over Asia, and now also in Africa, have received compassionate care through GFA’s sponsorship program, and their lives have been completely changed.[6]

Child labor statistics are slowly improving, but that does not mean the work is done. There are still millions of children working in dangerous and demeaning jobs all over the world. Agriculture—including fishing, forestry, livestock, etc.—represents 71 percent of all child labor, with much of the remainder of child laborers working in services and the industrial sector.[7] This is why GFA is continuing to work with children, giving them hope and an opportunity for a better future when no one else will. All this is done in the name of and with the love of Christ.

Where is child labor still happening?


While it seems that most countries have eradicated the practice of child labor, and some basically have, there are still many countries where child labor is a huge problem. The incidence of child labor is highest in Africa and Asia, which happen to be the two places where GFA is most active. Bangladesh, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the top three countries for the number of child workers.[8]

It is no coincidence that these are also among the poorest nations in the world. Impoverished families often turn to child labor when they are desperate for more income, but this means their children don’t receive an education and they remain unskilled and illiterate. This typically traps them in poverty for another generation, perpetuating the harmful cycle.[9]

GFA World’s Child Sponsorship Program also seeks to inform parents about the dangers and long-term effects of child labor, showing them exactly what is child labor. The staff members show families how vital education is for a child trying to rise above poverty, and the sacrifice needed in order to see their children educated is worth it. Education opens doors for the future that are closed to the uneducated.

For this reason, education is one of the best ways to end the cycle of poverty, and that is why GFA has such a heavy focus on this program. It only takes $35 a month to sponsor a child and join this education effort. GFA World is working to give these children a lifeline and show them the love of Jesus. Consider joining this work, and please continue to pray for the child laborers.

Learn more about how to provide hope for children

[1] Ortiz-Ospina, Estaban & Roser, Max. “Child Labor.” Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/child-labor. Accessed November 10, 2022.
[2] Ibid.
[3] “What Is Child Labour.” International Labour Organization. https://www.ilo.org/ipec/facts/lang–en/index.htm. Accessed November 10, 2022.
[4] Ibid.
[5] “James Annan.” End Slavery Now. https://www.endslaverynow.org/blog/articles/james-annan. January 5, 2015.
[6] “Sponsor a Child with GFA World.” GFA World. https://www.gfa.org/sponsorachild. Accessed November 10, 2022.
[7] Maki, Reid. “10 Basic Facts about Child Labor Globally.” The Child Labor Coalition. https://stopchildlabor.org/the-basic-facts-about-child-labor-globally-from-the-ilo. July 16, 2018.
[8] Sen Nag, Oishimaya. “Worst Countries for Child Labor.” World Atlas. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/worst-countries-for-child-labor.html. January 15, 2019.
[9] Gutheil, Lou. “Child Labor: Not Gone, But Forgotten.” GFA World Special Report. https://www.gfa.org/special-report/child-labor-today. July 9, 2019.