Child Labour in South Asia: Assessing the Effectiveness of Interventions

The Asia Pacific region has the highest numbers of both slavery and child labour victims in the world. Although there is a growing body of research and evaluations on specific sub-sectors and interest in the worst forms of labour exploitation, there has not yet been a systematic scoping or synthesis of studies that would help policymakers understand ‘what works’ to reduce the prevalence of modern slavery in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The negative impacts of child labour are seen in relation to children’s health, their access to education, and their long-term prospects for getting out of poverty and having a decent standard of living. This Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) examines current evidence on the effectiveness of interventions to combat child labour in four South Asian countries (Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan).

Addressing the following research question, the aim of this study was to produce a Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) to support evidence-informed programming on modern slavery, more specifically child labour:

What has been the effect of interventions to reduce the incidence and prevalence of the worst forms of child labour in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Nepal?

Conclusions include:

  • The evidence was limited in terms of geographic scope, types of child labour, types of interventions, and disaggregation of results by gender and age group; there was negligible disaggregation by disability. Studies were largely observational and therefore limited conclusions can be drawn about the effectiveness of interventions.
  • These limitations make it very difficult to draw anything more than indicative conclusions from the REA findings – however  some lessons can be identified from the studies reviewed – including:
    • Interventions addressing the macroeconomic conditions that drive child labour have diverse effects on child labour
    • Rescue and reintegration interventions, and provision of direct support to affected/at-risk families, can be effective if properly resourced and implemented for a sufficient duration.
    • Evidence within the studies of the impact of legislative measures was very limited, but what little evidence there is suggests such approaches are ineffective
    • Interventions driven by Corporate Social Responsibility may be effective in tackling child labour, but do nothing to address wider labour exploitation, and can even make things worse.

This Rapid Evidence Assessment is part of a wider assignment from the Department for International Development to assess the available evidence on modern slavery interventions, including an evidence map:

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