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Child labor hits 170M amid calls for eradication

The best way to improve high youth unemployment in developing economies is to eliminate child labor, according to an International Labour Organization (ILO) report.

A survey conducted by the ILO across 28 low-and middle-income countries shows that underage work sets children up for a series of unstable, shorter-term jobs later in life.

Indranil Mukherjee | AFP |Getty Images

"Child labor, in other words, not only poses immediate health, safety and development risks, but is also associated with compromised earning prospects and less chance of securing decent work in the longer term," the ILO report released Wednesday said.

The organization says nearly 168 million children are trapped in underage work across the developing world, and it's a lack of education that remains one of the biggest risks to future job prospects.

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Those who leave school before they turn 15 are in danger of being closed out of the working world altogether, and never properly transition into proper jobs. Those who do are less likely to gain secure and stable contracts that on average last longer than 12 months, compared with their more educated peers.

Child laborers will often face short-term work, interspersed by bouts of unemployment and absences from the workforce, the ILO report explained, adding that approximately 75 million 15 to 24 year olds are currently unemployed around the world.

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Governments should aim for early intervention through free, compulsory and quality education that continues through to the country's legal working age, the ILO suggests. Social safety nets need to be expanded to keep families from using child labor as a means of survival in the face of economic shocks.

Early intervention could also hamper a vicious cycle, the report said. "Not only does child labor affect youth employment prospects but youth employment prospects plainly affect child labor."

If there are fewer jobs available for educated young people, families are more likely to take children out of school in order to benefit from short-term returns, namely the wages gained from underage work.

"Expanding decent work opportunities for youth," the report concludes "...constitutes an important component of a broader strategy for addressing child labor."

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