Child labour poses one of the greatest risks to school participation. UNICEF estimates that 15 per cent of children aged 5–14 are involved in some kind of work. About a third of them do work that threatens their health, safety or emotional well-being, according to the International Labour Organization-International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPO-IPEC).

Though most children who work also attend school, the need to work is one of the factors that hamper children’s ability to learn and succeed in school. It is also considered a factor in decisions to drop out of school.

Evidence gathered from countries involved in the Out-of-School Children Initiative has made a strong link between child labour and the risk of exclusion from school.

As with most barriers to education, poverty plays an important role. It is often the reason a child must work instead of focusing on learning. Research has shown that rates of child labour are lower in wealthy households.

Flexible and responsive learning environments are required to make sure that children who work also learn the skills they need to survive and thrive. Examples of these environments include second-chance and non-formal educational opportunities.

Addressing the issues that drive children to the workforce rather than school will demand attention to social and economic disparities. It will require changes in policy and practice that allow families to choose education over child labour, even in economically hard times.