Child labour and health: a systematic review

Int J Public Health. 2018 Jun;63(5):663-672. doi: 10.1007/s00038-018-1075-9. Epub 2018 Jan 20.


Objectives: This study aimed to synthesise the available knowledge, identify unexplored areas and discuss general limits of the published evidence. We focused on outcomes commonly hypothesised to be affected by child labour: nutritional status, harmful exposures and injuries.

Methods: Four electronic databases (EMBASE, MEDLINE, Scopus, ISI Web of Science) were searched in November 2017. All articles published since 1996, without restrictions on language, were considered for inclusion.

Results: Out of the 1090 abstracts initially identified by the search, 78 articles were selected for inclusion and reviewed. Most of the studies were conducted in Asia and South America, and only a third of them compared working children to a control group of non-working children. Child labour appears to be associated with poor nutritional status, diseases due to harmful exposures, and a higher prevalence of injuries.

Conclusions: Despite evidence for a negative relation between child work and health, the cross-sectional design of most studies limits the causal interpretation of existing findings. More rigorous observational studies are needed to confirm and better quantify these associations.

Keywords: Child employment; Child labour; Child welfare; Harmful exposure; Injury; Safety; Underweight.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Asia
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Occupational Injuries / epidemiology*
  • South America