Child Labor In Africa: Here Are The Best And Worst African Countries

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Child labor remains a major concern in developing regions of the world, despite the growing awareness. According to the UN, child laborers are children who are either too young or involved in hazardous work. The word “hazardous” here refers to labor that could be detrimental to the child’s mental, physical, social, or educational development.

The situation is grimmer when you consider the statistics from the UN website for World Day Against Child Labor. 153 million children from 5 to 17 years are child laborers. About 48% of these children fall between the ages of 5 and 11 (too young to be considered teenagers). That’s not all, one in ten children are involved in child labor and Africa contributes the highest percentage.

Child Labor
Quote by Haim Ginott in solidarity with the 2021 movement to #endchildlabour (Photo credit: International Labor Organization)

The recent global pandemic has only worsened the situation, especially for children living in developing nations. This is threatening to undo years of progress in the fight against child labor. Therefore, it is important now more than ever for the world to come together and fight for these children. Thus, 2021 has been tagged the “International Year To End Child Labor”. Before going into details, here are some facts you should know about child labor in Africa.

Prevalence of Child Labor in Africa

Child labor is most prevalent in Africa and children can be seen hawking on the streets, selling in the market, or serving as house-helps to earn some money for the family. According to the UN, one-fifth of children in Africa (about 73 million) are child laborers. This is 10 million more than the figures from Asia and the Pacific regions which have the second-highest number of child laborers.

Africa is taking the lead in terms of the number and percentage of child laborers. The economic implication of the pandemic and growing population will likely force more children into child labor, especially those living in poor communities. This puts African nations several steps behind other nations globally. Also, it means more work must be done to meet up with Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Major SetBacks in the Fight against Child Labor in Africa

In many African nations, the government’s effort towards mitigating child labor has proven abortive. The reason for this may lie in the fact that poverty remains the leading cause of child labor. The absence of basic amenities from African governments is often due to economic challenges. With rising inflation, more families struggle to meet their daily needs. Therefore, children are forced to either fend for themselves or assist in fending for the family.

Also, Africa’s growing population is another huge challenge. The number is people in Africa living in poverty keeps growing annually. In 2018 alone, 433 million (40% of the population) in Sub-Saharan Africa live below the poverty line. The rapid population growth in Africa dwarfs any progress made towards poverty eradication in the region. Also, the economic impact of the pandemic only made things worse.

Number of people living below the poverty lines (measured in USD) between 1990 and 2017 (Photo credit: world bank)

The World Day Against Child Labor

On June 12, 2002, the International Labor Organization launched the World Day Against Child Labor. This is intended to create awareness about child labor, its causes, and prevention. Out of the 17 goals and 167 targets adopted by the UN in 2015, one is specifically related to child labor. This is known as Target 8.7 and its primary focus is the complete eradication of child labor by 2025. The UN hopes to,

“Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labor in all its forms”.

Child Labor
A child laborer shoveling gravel (Photo credit: UNICEF).

Thus, 2021 is declared an International Year For The Elimination Of Child Labor. The 2021 Action Pledge prompts individuals and organizations to come together and “Take Action”. Here is a guide on how to get involved in the movement.

The Top 10 Best and Worst African Countries According to Global Child Labor Index

While all African countries are battling the problem of child labor, some have made more progress than others. Our spotlight is on the top 10 best and worst African countries according to Index Mundi. Each country is ranked with data collected from the International Labor Organization, UNICEF, and World Bank. The survey considers children between the ages of 7 to 14 years who have been actively employed for at least one hour.

African Countries with the Highest Record of Child Laborers

#1. Guinea Bissau

Over a period of 13 years, Guinea-Bissau’s child labor was highest in 2000 with about 67.50% of children involved in the practice. The percentage gradually reduced to 50.50% in 2006 and then climbed back up to 63.92% in 2014. This value remains the highest record in recent years during the survey timeline.

#2. Cameroon

The West African country of Cameroon comes in second with a peak value of 62.00% recorded in 2011. Over the 10 years (2001–2011) during which the survey was carried out, the percentage of child laborers grew steadily. From 15.91% in 2001 to 62.00% in 2011, a total of 46.09% increase.

#3. Sierra Leone

The percentage of child laborers in Sierra Leone was 59.20 in 2013. A peak value of 65.00% was obtained in 2000 and the lowest value of 14.90% was obtained in 2007.

#4. Chad

The percentage of child laborers in Chad decreased from 60.40% in 2004 to 55.90% in 2015. Nevertheless, the trend seems to be moving upward considering that in 2013, the value was 33.10%. This represents a total increase of 22.80% in just 2 years.

#5. Burkina Faso

In 7 years, the number of child laborers in Burkina Faso stands at 50.30% as of 2012. In 2006, the value dropped to 42.10% from 50% in 2003. Thus, in 6 years, child labor has increased by 8.2%.

#6. Malawi

The number of child laborers in Malawi increased between 2004 to 2015. A cumulative percentage increase of about 6.2% was observed during the survey that lasted for 11 years. The lowest record of 25.10% was achieved in 2011 but this grew steadily up to 48.90% in 2015.

#7. Niger

Niger is the first African country on this list that has an inverted curve. The percentage of child laborers in the country increased from 47.10% in 2007, peaks at 55.10% in 2009, and then drop down to 48.50. Over the 5 years duration of the survey, the total percentage of child laborers increased by just 1.4%.

#8. Somalia

The survey of child laborers in Somalia lasted for just a year. According to the index, the percentage of child laborers in the country was 43.50% as of 2006. This makes Somalia the 8th African country with the highest number of child laborers.

#9. Democratic Republic of Congo

Child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo declined sharply between 2000 and 2010. Within this time, the percentage of child laborers dropped from 39.80% to 20.50%. However, from 2010 to 2014, this value increased steadily up to 41.39%. Thus, within 4 years, the number of child laborers increased by 20.89%.

#10. Guinea

The survey shows a steady decline in the number of child laborers in Guinea from 1994 to 2010. However, this is nothing compared to the sharp decline recorded between 2010 and 2012. The statistic shows that Guinea had an overall reduction of 10.20% between 1994 and 2012. Most of this took place in the last two years of the survey.

African Countries with the Lowest Record of Child Laborers

Out of the 43 African countries listed on the index, Lesotho had the lowest percentage of child laborers. The others are Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Rwanda, Algeria, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Mauritania, and Namibia. All 10 lowest ranking African countries on the index have a total of 84.37% in terms of child labor.

Sadly, the top two countries, Guinea-Bissau and Cameroon, have a combined total of 125.92% of child laborers. Looking at the bigger picture, the 10 worst African countries on the index have a combined total of 511.71% child laborers. This means more than half of the total number of child laborers in Africa live in one of the 10 worst countries.


The World Day Against Child Labor is an opportunity for the world to consolidate against child labor. Celebrating this day helps to create awareness about the mental and physical dangers associated with child labor. This includes the lasting psychological impact such activities will have on the child. These children are often victims of violence, abuse, discrimination, and exploitation.

Factors such as poverty, social and political instability, poor infrastructure, and cultural practices are some of the major hindrances in the fight against child labor in Africa. Join the global discussion on how to implement the 2021 Action Pledge to eliminate child labor. Also, us know how you pledge to fight against child labor in your community or country. Remember, no effort is too little.

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