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Child Labor Synthesis

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Review Process In Brief

This synthesis highlights key findings from studies identified through a CLEAR systematic evidence review that examined the impacts of interventions designed to reduce or prevent child labor and child work targeted for elimination (as defined by the study authors). CLEAR found 56 reports of 73 distinct studies published from January 2006 to May 2018. Of these studies, 30 received a high or moderate causal evidence rating which means that we have a good degree of confidence that the studied interventions caused the measured impacts on outcomes.

Please see the About CLEAR section for more information on CLEAR policies and procedures.

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What do we know about the effectiveness of interventions targeting child work/child labor?

The international community has long recognized the right of children to be protected from labor exploitation through several United Nations (UN) conventions and protocols, most notably article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which specifies that no children should perform any “work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” Child labor and child work targeted for elimination are defined by international conventions such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999), or through national child labor laws. 

Table 1. Types of interventions examined in the synthesis



Conditional cash transfers

Conditional cash transfer programs provided financial assistance to households with conditions to receive the payment (e.g., 85% school attendance in a month).

Unconditional cash transfers

Unconditional cash transfer programs provided financial assistance to households without any required conditions.

Training/Technical Assistance (TA) Programs

Training/TA included financial literacy, livelihood planning and household management, entrepreneurship training, farming practices, and jewelry making.

Scholarship Programs

Programs provided financial support for children to attend school.

Food Programs Programs provided food directly to the children (school meals program) or to the household (take home rations program).
Other Programs The other category included interventions such as tutoring and alternative schools, as well as interventions with multiple components (i.e., access to schools, school construction, school supplies/textbooks, take-home rations, small business loans, and awareness raising campaigns).

Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) reduced child work/child labor and improved school participation outcomes but the effectiveness differed by child characteristics and outcomes.

Studies examining CCT interventions found favorable outcomes; however, the effectiveness differed by gender, the age of the child, or type of work (e.g., economic labor, farm labor, or household chores). For example, Nicaragua’s Atención a Crisis decreased the hours spent in economic work for boys only (Del Carpio & Macours, 2010) but decreased the hours spent in farm labor and household chores for all children (Del Carpio et al., 2016).

Unconditional cash transfers (UCT) reduced child work/child labor and improved school participation.

Studies examining UCT interventions found favorable impacts on child work/child labor, including reduced participation in paid work for all children (Miller & Tsoka, 2012), reduced participation in paid domestic work for all children (Covarrubias et al., 2012), and reduced rates of participation in child labor (Edmonds & Schady, 2012). In addition, all five high-rated studies found increased school attendance or enrollment. These high-rated studies provide a small body of credible, quality evidence of promising interventions to reduce child work/child labor and improve school participation outcomes.

Training/TA programs may decrease child work/child labor and increase school participation.

Two studies of a household management and livelihood planning training program for women found a reduction in child work/child labor (both in Karimli et al., 2018) and a study of an entrepreneurship training program found a decrease in child work and an increase in school attendance (de Hoop et al., 2016). Another study of farming technical assistance found improved school attendance rates in addition to lower rates of paid work (Woldehanna, 2010). This small body of literature shows promise to potentially reduce child work/child labor but the studies received a low causal evidence rating or were not rated and should be interpreted with caution.

Food programs had mixed impacts on child work/child labor outcomes but favorable school participation outcomes.

Take home rations reduced productive labor for all children, with larger decreases for girls than boys while the school meals program increased all labor (productive labor plus domestic labor/household chores) for boys only (Kazianga et al., 2012). However, both food-for-education programs increased school enrollment for all children.

Only one high-rated study of a scholarship program had favorable impacts on child work/child labor and school participation outcomes.

This study of a scholarship paired with a stipend found lower rates of involvement in carpet weaving (a worst form of child labor) among youth ages 10-16 and higher levels of school attendance (Edmonds & Shrestha, 2014). Another study of a scholarship program found reduced child labor and increased school attendance but the study was low-rated (Sparrow, 2007). More evidence is needed to draw stronger conclusions of the effectiveness on child work/child labor.

The only high-rated study of an “other” intervention found improved child labor and school participation outcomes.

A study of a program that included access to community schools and small business loans, awareness raising campaigns, and take-home rations found reduced time spent in economic activities, increased time in school-related activities, and increased school enrollment and attendance (ICF International, 2013). Another study of a tutoring program found a reduction in the number of hours worked per day but the study was low-rated (Andisha et al., 2014).

Where are the gaps in the research on interventions targeting work/child labor?

  • Additional research is needed to determine the effects of training/TA, scholarships, and food programs on child labor outcomes. The systematic review found 13 studies that tested the impacts of training/TA interventions, scholarships, or food programs on child labor outcomes. Of these studies, less than half were rated high or moderate. Only two high-rated studies (one scholarship program and one food program) found a reduction in child work/child labor. Two studies of training/TA interventions received a high causal evidence rating but found no impacts of the intervention. More rigorous, credible research would enable us to draw stronger conclusions about the effectiveness of training/TA interventions, scholarship programs, and food programs.

  • Exploring the context and implementation of the cash transfer programs (conditional and unconditional) would further explain the effects of cash transfers on child labor outcomes. Variation in the findings among both conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs may be due to several factors including the features of the intervention, the implementation of the intervention, and the context where the intervention took place. For example, conditional cash transfers differed according to the cash transfer amount received by the household as well as the conditions for receipt of the transfer (e.g., school enrollment, school attendance rate, health clinic visits). Also, the interventions were implemented at the local government level in many countries and the conditionality was monitored by a local school; resulting in a lack of enforcement of the conditionality.

  • Research is needed to understand which groups of children benefit most from interventions targeting child work/child labor and why. Several studies found different impacts by gender, by age and based on the type of child work/child labor (e.g., paid work, farm labor, household chores). Additional research could provide information about which components are most effective for different subgroups.

  • More research is needed to understand the longitudinal effects of interventions targeting child work/child labor. Many studies examined the effects of an intervention one to two years after program implementation with fewer studies investigating impacts five years or more after implementation (e.g., Behrman et al., 2011). More research is needed to determine how long-lasting the impacts are on child work/child labor. Also, longitudinal research can provide information about sustained changes in individuals, households, communities, and industries.

  • There is little integration of findings across interventions beyond the significance of the impact. Ideally child labor outcomes could be standardized or even monetized to compare the cost/benefit ratio of different interventions. For example, the effect of child labor on human capital accumulation can be examined by calculating the impact of an additional year of schooling on lifetime earnings. The cost of different interventions can then be compared to their impact on these common metrics for cost/benefit analysis.