Education as a way out of exploitation

A new video and an accompanying article released by UNICEF about education in northern Benin turn the spotlight on child labour, child trafficking and other factors that rob children of their right to education.

As we will discuss in our forthcoming 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report on youth, skills and work, children who are trapped into exploitative labour from an early age are unlikely to escape low-paid and insecure work as they get older. Getting children out of work and into classrooms is therefore a key way for these children to escape poverty.

The video tells the story of Kabirou Sayo from Djougou in Benin who, at the age of 12, was tricked into travelling to Nigeria, where he was obliged to work. Child trafficking and labour are among the reasons some children do not attend school in Benin – a country that had 79,000 out-of-school children in 2009, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics.

In 2008 (the latest year for which figures are available) there were 215 million child workers in the world  – 20% more than in 2004, according to the ILO. Of these, 53% were in hazardous work. Even if some child labourers manage to combine work and school, they often achieve poorly compared to their peers who are not in work – even after taking other factors like school and household characteristics into account, as we found in the 2010 EFA Global Monitoring Report, Reaching the marginalized.

Child labour is often caused by poverty, but also leads to poverty. Children from poorer families are more likely than wealthier children to work outside the home, and less likely to combine such work with school, according to the 2010 Global Monitoring Report. The impetus to take children out of school becomes even stronger during economic crises. As UNICEF Education Project Officer Abiba Orou-Tokpo said, “The cotton sector is in crisis and production has fallen. When families lack resources, they are forced to establish priorities, and education is not at the top of the list.”

In Djougou and 18 other communes, UNICEF is working to get children out of child labour by making it easier to enrol in school, and to teach children about their right to education. Among other measures, the organization developed a board game, inspired by Trivial Pursuits and Monopoly, to help children understand their rights better. The game is being played in 21 schools in Djougou.



  1. Whilst I completely agree that no child should have to work at the expense of education, I think it is an oversimplification to suggest eradicating child labour is a solution. At the end of the day, these children are working because of the needs of their families. Therefore, in order to make such initiatives sustainable, it seems the challenges of the families involved and how economic development can be achieved on an individual level need to be addressed.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this article and viewing the video. I think it is awful that children are exploited across the world. Every child should be given a free, quality education so that they can realize their true human potential. It is really discouraging to see so many children treated as slaves just to survive. UNICEF and other organizations are doing a tremendous job working with the international arena on this endeavor.

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