One in seven orphaned and abandoned children (OAC) in low- and middle-income countries is engaged in child labor, according to new research by DGHI researchers. With such organizations as UNICEF declaring that child labor is harmful and should be eliminated, the cross-cultural study calls on policy makers and social service providers to pay close attention to the demands being placed on orphaned and abandoned children, particularly in rural areas and poor households with limited income sources.
The Positive Outcomes for Orphans (POFO) research project led by Kathryn Whetten at DGHI’s Center for Health Policy, is among the first to quantify the prevalence of child labor among OAC in low- and middle-income countries. The study includes 1,480 orphaned and children abandoned by one or both parents ages 6-12 living in family settings in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Tanzania.
In a newly published paper in BioMed Central by lead author Rachel Whetten, POFO researchers found that children who tended to work more were female, healthy, lived in rural settings, and/or had caregivers who had no income. Another significant finding is a strong association between increased child labour and decreased school attendance.
Whetten’s research team conservatively found 60% of OAC engaged in work during the past week, and of those who worked, about 18% worked 28 or more hours. More than a fifth of the total children sampled met UNICEF’s definition of child labor, which is work that exceeds a minimum number of hours depending on the age of the child and type of work. For children ages 5-11, child labor is defined as at least one hour of economic work or 28 hours of domestic work per week. For children ages 12-14, child labor is defined as at least 14 hours of economic work or 28 hours of domestic work per week.
“The very definition of labor is considered in this study, as in what is defined as labor versus chores, the argument being that household chores are not always measured as ‘work’ or ‘labor’ but are almost universally assigned to females, such as child care, water fetching, cooking or cleaning,” said Rachel Whetten of the labor study, which included household chores that exceeded the minimum number of hours per week. “One of the striking conclusions of this study is that female children are twice as likely as male children to be engaged in child labor. This supports the argument made by child protection and policy making organizations that when unpaid domestic ‘chores’ are not counted as labor, we risk missing the large burden being placed on children, particularly female children, which can interfere with their educational attainment and future well-being.”
With an estimated 143 million orphans worldwide, the research has implications for global policy makers and child service providers in low- and middle-income countries. POFO researchers suggest that programs to promote school attendance among orphaned and abandoned children may need to focus on the needs of families holistically as well as the needs of the children. Additionally, Rachel Whetten urges policy makers and care providers to consider the reality that female children are in great need of additional services and aid.
Other researchers for this study include Lynne Messer, Jan Ostermann, Brian Pence, Megan Buckner, Nathan Thielman and Karen O’Donnell. The study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development.
The study is available here.