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Child labor in Brazil grew from 2019 to 2022

The rise under Bolsonaro interrupted a three-year decline

Published on 22/12/2023 - 14:39 By Bruno de Freitas Moura - Rio de Janeiro

After a three-year decline, child labor increased in Brazil between 2019 and 2022, during former President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration. Last year, 1.881 million people aged five to 17 were victims of it, as per a survey released Wednesday (Dec. 20) by the statistics bureau IBGE.

The survey started in 2016, when IBGE identified 2.112 million people in this situation. Up to 2019, the number fell steadily, down to 1.758 million. Due to the pandemic, the study was not published in 2020 and 2021.

To define child labor, IBGE follows the guidelines of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which describes it as “work that is dangerous and harmful to the health and mental, physical, social, or moral development of children, interfering with their schooling.” Informal activities with excessive working hours are also included.

What the law says

IBGE estimates that 2.1 million people between the ages of five and 17 were engaged in economic or self-consumption activities in 2022. The difference between this amount and the total of young people classified as facing child labor (1.881 million) stems from the fact that not all activities in this age group are considered child labor.

Brazilian legislation sets limits. Up to the age of 13, any form of work is illegal. From 14 to 15, work is only allowed as apprenticeship. At 16 and 17, there are restrictions regarding night shifts, and unhealthy and dangerous conditions.


The increase in child labor in Brazil was seen not only in absolute terms. A surge is also observed in the proportion of kids engaged in these activities.

From 2019 to 2022, the population aged five to 17 decreased by 1.4 percent, but the number of people in this age group working increased by seven percent.

In 2019, the percentage of people aged five to 17 doing some form of child labor was 4.5 percent. By 2022, it had risen to 4.9 percent—nearly one in 20 young people in the age group.

Worst forms of child labor

The survey also looked at the number of young people subjected to occupations on the List of the Worst Forms of Child Labor, as per ILO’s Convention 182.

The list includes activities in places such as sawmills, the extractive industry, sewage, slaughterhouses, and mangrove swamps. They involve intense physical effort, heat, unhealthy conditions, and other factors that can cause fractures, mutilation, poisoning, and other harm to minors.

In 2022, 756 thousand children and adolescents were involved in such activities—46.2 percent of all people aged five to 17 who performed economic activities. This percentage has been on the wane since 2016, when it was 51.3 percent.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Kleber Sampaio

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