Not all child migration is trafficking and not all child work is slavery

Jo Boyden, Director, Young LivesJo Boyden


This week, the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced during his visit to South East Asia that new measures, enshrined in the Modern Slavery Act, will come in to force to curb the growth of human trafficking and slavery. This has, of course, thrown the whole issue of modern-day slavery and trafficking back into the media limelight.

Away from that limelight however, there are other discussions that attempt to go beyond the headlines. Open Democracy’s Beyond Slavery is one such effort.
Gina Crivello and I recently posted a blog there on child migration and schooling.

This week on the same Beyond Slavery blog, Mike Dottridge, the former director of Anti-Slavery International has written an uncomfortable but important truth; in the outrage caused by the continued existence of child trafficking and slavery throughout the world today, these practices are all too readily inflated to cover all forms of child migration and work. In this way, a legitimate cause for concern is all too readily translated into inappropriate responses.

The fact that an unknown number of children globally have been and are being trafficked and the fact that an unknown number work in dangerous and exploitative conditions should cause alarm and does need urgent attention, but this does not mean that all children who move away from their natal homes or that all who work are trafficked or otherwise abused.

Unfortunately, in identifying what is undoubtedly a problem and doing so without recourse to sound evidence – including and in particular evidence provided by the young people and families themselves – we risk proposing ‘solutions’ that are at best irrelevant and at worst, misrepresent and greatly exacerbate the situation of many children.

Evidence is essential to understand what is going on, who is affected and in what ways, and what makes a difference; the situation is complicated and unless this evidence includes the experiences and perspectives of those directly affected policy will likely go astray.

Young Lives evidence shows that children’s economic contributions to their families can be vital for households living in poverty. Further, the social and life skills they develop through these contributions are highly valued as a sign of maturity and empathy towards others, as well as an indicator of preparedness for meeting survival needs in adulthood. And when it comes to children moving away from the family home, this is a common practice in many contexts that bears no resemblance to trafficking. Families are not necessarily confined to a single home and may extend across multiple households. Children often move to other households for longer or shorter periods. The motives are many and varied, whether it is to be mentored by a relative or role model who has specific expertise or insight, to access a secondary school, or simply a better school, or to help out around the house or in a family business. Very often these arrangements are beneficial to all concerned: to the children, who are supported by the host household and gain new educational, vocational and social opportunities; to the sending household, which has one less mouth to feed; and to the host household, which benefits from the children’s economic assistance.

This is a very different kind of situation from that envisaged and planned for by much global policy and should not be conflated with trafficking or slavery lest in the process important survival and learning opportunities for children and their families be closed down.

Alula Pankhurst, director of Young Lives in Ethiopia reminds us too that children themselves often want to work, for a variety of reasons, including a sense of duty and obligation about which they are often proud in contributing to their households, or sometimes to be more independent from parents and work to earn money, learn skills, and choose their own paths within the constraints of their life opportunities. In other words it is not just from the parental and household perspective that child work and migration might be seen as beneficial.

Rather than assuming that they are always passive pawns in adults’ games, we must recognise adolescents’ agency and volition.

What needs to be done to keep child marriages trending down

Alula Pankhurst, Country Director, Young Lives Ethiopia

This blog originally appeared in The Conversation  on 23 June 2015


The broader African and international lobby against child marriage and other harmful traditional practices has grown tremendously in recent years. Its political clout is being felt right down to the grassroots level with positive outcomes.

These campaigns are being stepped up. Last week, the African Union launched a campaign to end child marriage in Africa. This produced a common position on ending child marriage.

Last week also saw the annual Day of the African Child (June 16). Joined-up thinking and campaigning led to this year’s theme of accelerating collective efforts to end Child Marriage in Africa.

To galvanise all this support and translate commitments to action, the Ethiopian government has planned a National Girl’s Summit on June 25. This follows a similar summit in London last year, where the country committed to ending female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage by 2025.

Early marriages declining in Ethiopia

The good news is that early marriage is on the decline in Ethiopia. There are multiple reasons for this, though policy change and implementation of programmes have no doubt played a large part.

Over the past decade, there have been a number of government advocacy campaigns and projects supported by donors and NGOs. The Revised Family Proclamation of 2000 Article 7 prohibited marriage under the age of 18. By 2008, six of the nine federal states had enacted their respective laws which had begun to take effect in the regions from 2003. Two regions have still to amend their laws. Enforcement has tended to involve fines and, occasionally, imprisonment.

But the decline is also due to the rapidly changing social and economic environment in Ethiopia. With greater access to education, radio, satellite TV and mobile phones – as well as employment and migration of youth – there are opportunities for them to learn about the world and question prevailing cultural assumptions.

There has also been an intergenerational shift in attitudes and expectations. In one of our research interviews, a mother from Leki in Oromia describes the tension this has caused between generations:

Our parents used to give us to somebody we do not know and collect their bride wealth … they cover our head with a shawl and put us on horseback to ride us to groom’s house … it was like sending us into a prison … Now, if I marry off my daughter [against] her interest, she will refuse and oblige me to pay back any bride wealth I take.

Reflecting on what influenced them in deciding about the marriage of their children and grandchildren, parents and grandparents commonly refer to their own past difficulties arising from early marriage.

Early marriage may be viewed as a rational option by parents under certain circumstances, including when girls’ education is limited.
Reuters/Radu Sigheti


Rationales for child marriage

The reality is that, culture and tradition aside, poverty is the basic underlying rationale for early marriage. In certain contexts, early marriage may be viewed as a rational option by parents and sometimes girls.

Factors include girls having few other opportunities. Their education is limited and chances of training or employment restricted.

Marriage payments can provide support for parents. Bride wealth payments, which are customary in southern Ethiopia, can be an important source of income for girls’ families. It enables them to meet various needs and marry off their sons.

Promising their children in marriage while still young was a strategy in Amhara to form family alliances and ensure that the young couple were endowed with property to start a new household.

By marrying their daughters early, parents feel they are reducing the risk of them engaging in pre-marital sex. This redues the risk of exposing them to sexually transmitted diseases – notably HIV/AIDS – and the risk of pregnancy, unsafe abortion, or disgrace and social stigmatisation if they have a child while unmarried.

Young women who have a child out of wedlock often won’t get support from the father and may be repudiated by their parents. Finding work for young women is hard enough when they are on their own. Creche and preschool facilities are often nonexistent or unaffordable, and employers will often not accept a young woman with a child.

In a context of low life expectancy, parents are keen to ensure their daughters find respectable husbands while they are alive, and by marrying early have enough children that survive. In the absence of alternative social security, parents hope to have grandchildren to look after them in old age.

Despite the winds of change, not all parents – or indeed girls or the boys who wish to marry them – are convinced that these practices are wrong.

Changing hearts and minds

In terms of implementing the law, the birth registration system being put in place is important. But in the short term, the exact age of girls is difficult to certify and some parents or girls have claimed they are older so they can marry without risking prosecution.

The law can also have unintended adverse consequences. Some girls may also defy the law, arguing that it is their right to choose to marry early – making it difficult to prosecute them.

If legal sanctions are imposed without a genuine change of heart and people being convinced of the harm, the practices can go underground.

Much of the current campaigns’ focus is rightly on girls, particularly through schools and the media. Empowerment of the girls is clearly key to bringing about change.

Targeting men and religious leaders

These practices are closely linked to the rest of girls’ lives and opportunities. Breaking the cycle of poverty by providing girls with more chances for education, training and employment may well be more important than simply seeking to convince them to avoid harmful practices.

Ethiopian church leaders have a role to play in condemning early child marriages.
Reuters/Tiksa Negeri

It is also important to involve men and boys, as fathers, future husbands and leaders. Changing views about girls’ life-chances, education and employment can lead to greater transformations in ideas about desirable marriage partners and the benefits of delaying marriage to increase opportunities.

There is also evidence that convincing customary and religious leaders to denounce the practices and avoid them for their own daughters has an important role in changing trends.

The forthcoming summit is without doubt a step in the right direction. Combined efforts from all stakeholders including government structures and services, international and civil society organisations is crucial. But in the final analysis, the need for change has to be believed in and implemented within communities by the girls, young women and men, and their parents.

The Conversation

Alula Pankhurst is Young Lives Ethiopia Country Director at University of Oxford.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. The images of children in this blog were chosen by The Conversation editors and are not of children involved in Young Lives research.
Read the original article.

Click here for our slidehare presentation given at the Ethiopia Girl Summit

Beyond the rhetoric: understanding the links between child labour and education

by Renu Singh, Country Director of  Young Lives India

On World Day Against Child Labour, we are once again reminded of the innumerable children who are continuing to work in inhumane conditions in sweat shops, mines, factories and behind Renu Singh_IMG_1153_CROPclosed doors from where their voices are never heard.

Over the past decade the number of children in paid occupations has reduced in India from over 12 million in 2001 to over 4 million in 2011. After a prolonged wait, the Cabinet has recently banned all forms of child labour for those under the age of 14. This was mainly to align itself with the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 which makes education a fundamental right for all children in the age group 6-14 years. While the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 banned the employment of children up to the age of 14 in hazardous occupations, this proposed Amendment bill prohibits employment of children below 14 years in all occupations and processes, other than family enterprises and farm lands (after school hours and holidays). I’ve commented on this amendment elsewhere.

Young Lives has some interesting insights to offer in terms of children, school and work in India (based on our research in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana). The research from its pro poor samples reveals that there is a decreasing enrolment in schools as children grow older. While 98 percent of the children were enrolled in schools at age eight, this decreased to 90 per cent at age 12, to 77 per cent by age 15 and to 48 percent by the time the children turned 19.

A critical finding from the research is that the majority of children (58%) continuing their education at the age of 15 were in reality combining school with paid and unpaid work. What is striking is the fact that the number of children combining unpaid work and schooling increased from a small 4 percent at the age of 12 to 45 percent at 15. Interestingly, the number of children combining paid work and schooling remained almost constant at 13 percent. Boys (56%) and the poorest third (60%) constituted a major proportion of children combining school with paid work.

We also found that children who participated in paid work at the age of 12, were 27 percent less likely to progress through secondary education, with girls being much more disadvantaged than boys and 41 percent less likely to pass Grade X.

Longitudinal analysis of time use data by boys and girls also reveals highly gendered roles emerging from a very young age. We find that girls constituted 60 percent of children combining school with unpaid work at age 14/15. Girls also spent significantly less time on studies as well as leisure at the age of 12 and 15. So girls are at a disadvantage not only in terms of the amount of time they spend in school but also in time spent studying after school, since they spend a large amount of time in caring and domestic chores from an early age.
The study also finds that more girls than boys had left school between the ages of 12 and 15, but hardly any gender difference is apparent in enrolment of boys (90%) and girls (89%) belonging to the least poor households. In other words, the better off you are, the more likely you are to keep your girl in school. There are many reasons for why children have left school by the age of 15. It may be a sudden shock such as the death of a parent. Here we also see gendered patterns emerge. A third of the boys cite poor school quality and 18 percent cite paid work as key reasons for leaving school, while a quarter of the girls cite domestic chores as the key reason for leaving school.

Undoubtedly, India has made tremendous progress in increasing enrolment for children aged 6-14 years in the past few years due to efforts of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) as well the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act. Approximately 2 million new entrants have joined elementary school.

But now efforts must be directed towards addressing both the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors that negatively impact retention and transition rates, particularly for girls. It is also time to work towards extending universal elementary education to at least the secondary if not senior secondary level of education. To reach this goal, the school system must provide relevant, flexible and quality instruction to meet needs of all children, including those who might have been absent from school due to household shocks, seasonal migration or harvesting.

In addition, mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that the poorest children are protected from being pushed into child labour or burdened with long hours of unpaid “family work” that can have a negative impact on their future, by providing social protection to their families.

To achieve this, it is essential to adopt a holistic, multi-sectorial approach with effective partnerships between governmental agencies, non-governmental organisations, international bodies and community groups.

In short, we need to find better ways to support children whose daily reality is not choosing between work and school, but struggling to combine both work and school.

Rising school enrolment, plunging test scores

Renu Singh_IMG_1153_CROPWriting for Ideas for India this week, Young Lives India Country Director Renu Singh finds that the rise in school enrolment is associated with a worrying decline in learning standards. She stresses that an exploration of factors leading to this decline is essential in the wake of increasing investment in elementary education.  “Achieving the ‘Education for All’ goal cannot rest on access to schooling and enrolment alone; it requires focusing on a meaningful and relevant curriculum, human resource management systems that ensures regularity and accountability, and availability of qualified and professionally trained teachers, that would enable enhanced student retention, attainment and achievement”.

Read her article at:

“I do not like my school, since the teachers beat me badly”: how corporal punishment makes children feel

by Virginia Morrow

Ginny cropped_low-res

One of the success stories of the Millennium Development Goals has been the increase in enrolment of children in primary schools. However, little attention has been paid to the daily experiences of children in school, from their viewpoints, and the role corporal punishment plays in those experiences.

Corporal punishment is widely used in schools globally despite international concern about the effects on children and the implications for their capacity to benefit from school.  And yet it persists. Changing social policies send clear messages about practices that are not acceptable, but the eradication of corporal punishment in schools globally is proving difficult, and India is no exception.

Violence against girls is now high on the Indian political agenda, after the horrific fatal gang rape of a female student in Delhi in 2012 led to widespread demonstrations demanding an end to sexual violence against girls and women.

However,  more ‘normal’ forms of violence may go unnoticed or unquestioned, and limited academic attention has focussed on children, and how patriarchy leads to gendered differences in the way boys and girls are treated at home, school and society at large. Social divisions based on caste, class and socio-economic status remain predominant, and violence against the powerless by those in power is common. This extends to schools where teachers ‘control’ the students through corporal punishment. For children in Andhra Pradesh, norms relating to femininity mean that girls are required to be docile and submissive, and not to be ‘caught’ being ‘naughty’. Norms of/or ideas about masculinity may mean that boys are supposed to be able to accept physical punishment and to withstand pain.

This week sees the launch of a book entitled Gender Violence in Poverty Contexts – the educational challenge edited by Jenny Parkes. Chapter 5, Children’s perceptions of punishment in schools in Andhra Pradesh, India by myself and Renu Singh presents research evidence from Young Lives about the prevalence of school corporal punishment among a sample of children in Andhra Pradesh.

Our findings indicate that corporal punishment of children in schools is endemic.

India ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, and has copious policies that ban corporal punishment in schools. But these seem out of kilter with everyday realities. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009 guarantees school for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. Elementary schooling has expanded but this rapid expansion has not been matched by comparable increases in the teaching workforce. There is a shortage of teachers in government schools, and class sizes are very large, putting pressure on teachers to control high numbers of children, in both the private and the government sector.

The Government of India commissioned research that included over 3,000 children aged from 5 to 18, who were asked about physical abuse by teachers. In all age groups, 65% reported being beaten at school.  Overall, the Young Lives findings reinforce these figures.

Our younger cohorts (7-8 year old) were significantly more likely to have witnessed and experienced corporal punishment than the 14-15 year old cohort, with over two-thirds of the younger children having been physically punished at school in the past week, compared with one-third of the older young people. Among children aged 14-15 years of age, we noted differences by gender with boys reporting punishment more frequently than girls. There was a less sharp distinction in use of corporal punishment between boys and girls in the younger cohort. This may be because corporal punishment is part of the socialisation of younger children, but when they are older it is no longer seen as an appropriate way to discipline young women, while ‘toughening up’ young men maybe normative.

“Reasons” to be punished

Children themselves explain that large class sizes made it difficult for teachers to keep control – for example, if teachers were absent, they were taught by other teachers trying to compensate by managing more than a class at a time. As the number becomes unmanageable, teachers use a stick to control the children, hitting them for a number of reasons.


Girls and boys spoke of a range of other reasons for punishment including being absent from school for work, illness, or attending family celebrations, missing classes, not doing their homework, not reading well, making mistakes, getting poor marks in exams, not wearing uniform, not having the right equipment, or not paying the teacher for extra lessons. A girl aged 10 explained:

If we don’t study, they beat us. If we ask other children for help, they beat [us]. I went to drink water without asking sir, so he beat me that time. They said all children should come back to class by the time they count 10 after the interval. But I went home [to use the toilet]. After coming back to school, he beat me.

Boys and girls mentioned going home at lunchtime to use the toilet, as toilets in schools are often  inadequate and unsanitary.

The children also described other forms of punishment.  One 8 year old girl explained that her teacher had asked her to do a goda kurchi (sitting on the edge of the wall by balancing on the legs, a form of punishment widely used in India) and her leg became swollen. Children expressed discontent about both physical and verbal forms. Goda kurchi and verbal abuse was described by one 10 year old boy at a government school:

The teachers beat with sticks and rulers and make us sit on our haunches – our legs swell up. They also abuse us, and use foul language, ‘you look like bullocks and donkeys – the herdsman is better than you’ – this makes us very sad.

The shame and humiliation felt by children when treated like this is clear, and breaches children’s human rights to dignity and respect.

Linking corporal punishment to poverty

Our findings show that poverty at home clearly influenced school discipline practices. Living in poverty meant that children were sometimes not in a position to follow the rules and expectations of school. Children described being punished for not having uniform or the right equipment, or money to pay fees. Anwar, aged 10 said ‘If we don’t get notebooks, then teachers will beat us’.  A boy, aged 15 described how he sometimes missed school:  ‘if uniform is not there [ready], I don’t go because the master will beat me’.

One mother mentioned that the only thing her 7-year old daughter says about school is that teachers beat her:

She studies well, she goes regularly and returns, but when there is no dress [uniform] and when we delay the fee payment then she will not go, she refuses to go. … she says she will not go and she hides behind that wall … and says that ‘sir will beat me, they will beat me’.

 As Young Lives data have shown, economic constraints and family circumstances mean that boys and girls in rural areas engaged in seasonal agricultural work on family land, missed school for days, weeks, or months at a time.  When they did return to school, they faced punishment.  Ramya (girl, aged 12) said: ‘I feel very bad when teacher scolds me. I like to be regular to school, do homework, but I cannot do it all. It is difficult, but I have no choice but to do it’.

Though older boys rarely spoke directly about their fears of punishment, their mothers spoke of their sons’ emotions. Ranadeep’s mother explained:

He liked going to school, but we stop him… Otherwise, we cannot run the family, we don’t get labourers in time and there is no other way for us, so we had to do it like that. When he [returns] teachers, they shout at him and he is terrified…. His father goes there and informs them. … they scold us, they say, how will he get on if he is absent for such a long time?… we try to pacify them by telling them about our problems at home.

What can be done?

Blaming specific groups (teachers, and/or parents) will not enable progress to be made, and risks alienating teachers already under pressure because of overcrowded classrooms, poor infrastructure, and poverty situations.

Approaches need to develop not only from the top down, but from communities, families and teachers upwards, to find ways of working together to change practices.  There is some indication of shifting attitudes because, although corporal punishment is experienced by all social groups, some older children and parents in better-off communities mentioned challenging corporal punishment by teachers. Learning from the ways in which parents and children challenge teachers’ practices could usefully be channelled into community-led strategies to influence attitudes about corporal punishment.

In global policy debates, much emphasis has been placed on the role of education as the solution not only to reducing cycles of poverty in developing countries, but also to addressing gender violence.

However, the evidence presented here suggests that we must question this.

Violence as an integral part of schooling may have consequences for boys’ and girls’ development that go beyond the here-and-now of childhood to social and economic consequences in adulthood, as children experience fear and risks of injury while at school.  In India, this needs to be understood in the context of high expectations that parents and children have of schools, despite the very low levels of learning that children achieve. Some children dislike school for many reasons, but if they discontinue school because of their experience of corporal punishment, and if they learn that the corporal punishment is the solution to behaviour that is out of line, then formal schooling may inadvertently be reinforcing both cycles of poverty and the use of violence.


This blog is a summary of Children’s perceptions of punishment in schools in Andhra Pradesh, India by

Virginia Morrow and Renu Singh in  Gender Violence in Poverty Contexts – the educational challenge edited by Jenny Parkes.

Guest blog: 10 Recommendations on how to advance equity for children in the SDGs

gunay salazar photo

Guest post by Günay Salazar, Equity for Children

Equitable societies have to be built; they are not a given. We saw that the Millennium Development Goals Agenda – despite its reported achievements– missed out on the most disadvantaged populations. We know by now who they are: the most vulnerable are often income-poor; ethnic, racial and religious minorities; rural dwellers; environmentally vulnerable communities; and children, especially girls.

The new Approaches to Equity Report highlights key findings on current equity approaches and 10 practical recommendations for policymakers around the globe to create inclusive and equitable societies. (more…)

Do children and young people have a place in International Workers’ Day?

Gina_cropped_lowresBy Gina Crivello, Senior Research Officer


May 1st celebrations honouring working people and the working classes tend to be very public displays – whether street parades, rallies or public speeches. Over the past century, the labour movement has advocated for the 8-hour working day and for women’s suffrage, and in more recent years, marches have highlighted the rights of undocumented workers and the views of anti-capitalists.

International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day in some places, is about making the rights and voices of workers visible and heard.

But do children and young people have a voice as working people? (more…)

Lighting the way to better policy: measuring child poverty in the SDGs

Child-poverty_indicators_coverBy Paul Dornan, Senior Policy Officer

To achieve the vision for the Sustainable Development Goals set out in the UN Secretary General’s synthesis of the post-2015 discussions,  child poverty needs to be at the core of the new framework. Childhood is the critical period for the development of human faculties. Not only does poverty experienced during childhood have demonstrable damaging life-long consequences, but its impact on children’s health and learning represent a huge waste of human potential in rapidly changing societies. (more…)

Preventing child mortality and addressing ‘the lottery of birth’

The_Lottery_of_Birth_coverby Paul Dornan, Senior Policy Officer, Young Lives

Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The status report on the Convention published by the UN in September noted an incredibly important fact –that under-5 mortality has nearly halved, from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 48 per 1,000 in 2012. That is 17,000 fewer children dying every day. The pace in reducing early child deaths has quickened – from a 1.2% per annum in 1990–95 to 3.9% in 2005–12.  Of course this is a tremendous success story, but to put it into perspective, the global average of 48 per 1000 compares to 5 per 1000 in the UK and 3 in Sweden, and the MDG goal of a two-thirds reduction will not be met by the 2015 target year.

Last week Save the Children issued a report, The Lottery of Birth, which shines a spotlight on a key part of this story which is that even within national averages, the progress has not been equitable – mortality rates are typically falling least among the poorest and most marginalised children and mortality inequalities within countries are growing. The implication of this is that to make further reductions requires policies to reach the poorest families, where the problem is greatest. (more…)

Reflecting on 2014: 14 things we’ve learned

Paul_web commentBy Paul Dornan, Young Lives Senior Policy Officer

As the year draws to an end, it’s time for a re-run the next instalment of our ‘who’d miss’ series … 12 things we learned in 2012  and the ‘ever popular and long-awaited’ 13 things we learned in 2013. So here are 14 things from 2014… The need for brevity means I’ve had to simplify loads of information into a few lines – so don’t take my word for it all, click the links to find out more.

#1 Children have high hopes and expectations to study for longer to get a good job and future. At the age of 12 years between three-quarters of children in Ethiopia and nine in ten in Peru wanted to go on to vocational training or university after finishing school. Such high hopes often bump up against sharp realities later on, especially for the most marginalised children. But it makes little sense to interpret the reasons for children leaving school early as a lack of understanding of the importance of a good education. (more…)