Issue paper

Issue paper on child labour and education exclusion among indigenous children

The issue paper provides an updated picture of the child labour and schooling situation of indigenous children, with a view to informing policy interventions in the lead up to the 2025 target date for ending child labour.

Building on earlier ILO research and policy guidance, the issue paper is based on an extensive literature review as well as on a series of focus group discussions conducted with organizations of indigenous peoples from Cambodia, Kenya, the Russian Federation,1 Nepal and Tanzania. Quantitative data on the child labour prevalence and school attendance was also analysed for the limited number of countries where this data was available, namely Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama and Peru.

The paper was developed jointly by ILO FUNDAMENTALS and ILO GEDI with funding from United States Department of Labor.

Findings emerging from the research include the following:
  • Indigenous children face a higher risk of child labour than other children, and often a dramatically higher risk. This situation appears to be common to indigenous children across regions, although the bulk of the representative data relates to the Latin America and Caribbean region.
  • In many contexts, indigenous children are also significantly over-represented among the group of children in hazardous work and in worst forms of child labour other than hazardous.
  • The majority of indigenous children engaged in child labour are found in agricultural work, but child labour among indigenous children also extends to work in construction, commerce, manufacturing, domestic work and other sectors.
  • Indigenous children are also disadvantaged in terms of their access to education, contributing to their vulnerability to child labour and compromising their ability to acquire the skills and knowledge needed for work and life.
  • In most countries where data is available, the school attendance of indigenous children in the age range of compulsory schooling is lower than for other children; the attendance gap is particularly pronounced for indigenous girls.
  • Indigenous children face multiple educational barriers, including the non-recognition of indigenous knowledge and education systems, language barriers and the use of formal education as a means of assimilation that jeopardizes their cultural survival.
The evidence reviewed and consultations held for the research make clear that child labour and education exclusion of indigenous children are driven in important part by broader violations of the rights of indigenous peoples enshrined in ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These violations are closely inter-related and mutually reinforcing and rooted in persisting discrimination and continuing patterns of subjugation, marginalization, dispossession, and exclusion.

1 The ILO did not provide any technical assistance, and the research was carried out before the Russian Federation's aggression towards Ukraine.