Children are guaranteed the rights to dignity, health, care and education from their parents and the state. The state must provide all types of protection to all children without discrimination and in accordance with their best interest.

Article 47 of the 2014 Tunisian Constitution


Many questions revolve around the question of human rights in Tunisia. Although the Tunisian constitution is supposed to guarantee individual rights, it has not prevented social crises of individual freedom. This policy brief addresses child labor in Tunisia, a social problem that is not frequently discussed and has worsened since 2011, and proposes solutions to end it.


Tunisia has ratified several international conventions on children’s rights, the most important being the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In addition, legislation aimed at establishing and promoting human rights, in general, and children’s rights, in particular, has multiplied. However, the reality is completely different because the international and local instruments ratified by the State are not respected.

Child labor can cause physical damage, from serious injuries and incurable illnesses. Also, it can cause children psychological harm if they suffer from exploitation, exhaustion, and lack of psychological support because the child is deprived of schooling at an early age and thrown into the arena of professional life from an early age instead of continuing their studies. In 2018, 59% of child victims of trafficking were sexually exploited[1] because of their innocence or ignorance of what is happening is exploited or because they were forced to comply out of fear of losing their job, without which they could not survive. In addition, children who are forced into work may be led into more dangerous fields, such as becoming recruited by terrorist groups or becoming victims of prostitution and drug networks.

The alarming figures of Child labor

Alarming figures and a growing phenomenon

A UNICEF and National Institute of Statistics study[2] showed that 3% of Tunisian children aged 5-14 are economically exploited. Although this percentage varied depending on the regions and governorate, 7% was recorded in the south-east region and Kasserine had the highest rate of child labor (10%).  

The study emphasized the direct relationship between the schooling conditions and child labor as well as the growing risk of education failure and school dropout. In 2014, the annual school dropout rate was more than 100,000 students according to statistics from the Ministry of Education.  

According to a 2017 national survey conducted by the Institute of Statistics, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the International Labor Organization[3], the number of economically active children reached more than 215,000. The study confirmed that 136,000 of these children are in hazardous work. According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, around 50% of children work in agriculture, while around 20% of them work in commerce, and the rest of the percentages are distributed among different liberal professions, crafts and others.

Child labor in Tunisia has become a widespread but downplayed phenomenon as children can be seen begging, cleaning car windows, selling bouquets of jasmine, and working in car repair shops. Given their vulnerability and the ease with which they are destabilized, they are victims of exploitation. Girls often work as maids from an early age to support their families, coming from the north-west interior regions to work in the capital, where they can become victims of rape and harassment. A study by the Association of Tunisian Women for Research on Development (AFTURD)[4] confirmed that in 2016 17.8% of the approximately 78,000 domestic workers in Tunisia are minors. The study also mentions that in one area of northwest Tunisia, underage girls are exploited by brokers in a weekly market who employ them as domestic workers.

A study by the National Body for the Fight against Human Trafficking and figures from the General Commission for Child Protection from 2017 to 2018 highlight the depth of the problem. These studies demonstrate how children have become victims of criminal networks, where the rate of their exploitation in organized crime reaches 15.2%, whether for begging or economic exploitation. Also, the rate reaches 25.7% of the total number of child victims of human trafficking.

Scenes of children on the street begging or selling diaries and tissues are becoming increasingly common. While passers-by have become used to it, some sympathize and some do not care. But it cannot be denied that these children are the victims of exploitation by professional networks specializing in attracting children from needy families in exchange for a third of the profits. A video [5]that was shared on social media showed a car without a registration plate collecting children who had been begging in the city of Hammam-Lif.

Extreme poverty and greed can push parents to make their children easy bait for these organizations by allowing these networks to hire their babies to generate more sympathy from bystanders. They return it to their family at the end of the day in exchange for the agreed amount, “which varies from one child to another depending on age, living conditions and how they are exploited”. In some cases, children are forced to take sleeping pills so that they are easier to control throughout the day.

A report by Inkyfada on the exploitation of children and human trafficking stated that: 

“In 2017, the courts only examined 18 cases related to the exploitation of children, 7 of which were classified as “human trafficking”. Most of the victims are children, especially girls. Among the defendants, in this case, only one defendant was sentenced to one month in prison for using a baby to beg. Data from the Ministry of Justice shows that until January 31, 2018, most court cases were still under investigation and only one person was released after being cleared, while eight others remain. in prison. They have been charged with human trafficking.”[6]

In an interview conducted by Inkyfada, Judge Raoudha Laabidi, the president of the National Authority for the fight against human trafficking, highlighted the need to review the labor code and other laws, because they contain certain provisions which allow minors to work in agriculture and fishing.

Legislative loophole

The current laws on child labor pose a real problem because their ambiguity leaves them open to interpretation. Article 58 of the Labor Code, for example, states that: 

“The minimum age for admission to any type of work which, by its nature or the circumstances in question, may put the health, the safety or the morals of the children in danger, cannot be less than eighteen (18). The types of work referred to in the previous paragraph are determined by order of the Minister of Social Affairs taken after consultation with the professional organizations most representative of employers and workers.”

This article represents a legislative ambiguity that aggravates the crisis because it explicitly recognizes that children are authorized to work as long as they are not exposed to any harm. Furthermore, article 55 of the Labor Code states that:

“The age for admission of children to work is lowered to thirteen (13) for agricultural work which is not harmful to the health and normal development of children and is not prejudicial to their attendance and aptitude at school or to their participation in vocational guidance or training programs approved by the competent public authorities”[7]

However, this seems to contradict recently passed laws. The 2016 law on human trafficking aimed to protect children by recognizing the prohibition of “the economic or sexual exploitation of children in the context of their employment”[8] and Article 20 of the 2017 law on the elimination of violence against women states that: “anyone who voluntarily and directly or indirectly hires children as domestic workers is punished by three to six months imprisonment and a fine of two to five thousand dinars. Anyone who acts as an intermediary in hiring children as domestic workers would incur the same penalty provided for in the previous paragraph”[9].

Limited resources and lack of coordination

The existing statistics provided by child protection representatives or other authorities do not reflect reality as they are only based on reported cases. The child protection representatives act based on reported cases, in particular in the absence of a common action plan with the other relevant bodies. A database of statistics on child begging does not exist and the State does not allocate the necessary means which makes criminal prosecution difficult. Also, there is a lack of funding for training a greater number of police officers in effectively intervening and training all actors of the judicial system. Despite the training of 1,400 magistrates, public prosecutors, their assistants and law enforcement, there is a lack of solutions and training, according to Judge Raoudha Laabidi.

Recommended solutions and strategies

Application of the national plan to combat child labor

The national strategy to combat child labor[10], which runs from 2015 to 2020, raises many questions. It has become empty words to meet the human rights organizations and civil society in Tunisia. The introduction praises the Tunisian legislative arsenal and the Tunisian constitution. It also extols the state’s constant attempts to get children out of this alarming situation and is followed by visions aimed at establishing this strategy through the adoption of the participatory approach. It is important to mention three points which the national strategy addresses.

  • Create a steering committee to follow the stages of preparation of the national strategy, which includes representatives of the ministries and relevant social actors.
  • Organize regional level consultations with the structures concerned to closely identify the most important issues of the phenomenon and define the practical and legal requirements to address them.
  • Organize participatory workshops to develop various mechanisms which can help solve the child labour problem. This includes collecting information on the characteristics of the phenomenon, its propagation at both regional and national levels, and identifying the causes of the current situation.

All three would be effective solutions if they were applied. However, they remain plans that have not been implemented due to the absence of an appropriate legislative framework to support the objectives of this plan. Also, institutions lack competence to bring about the desired change.

Provide an institutional framework capable of instilling change

Developing a strategic plan to avoid the child labor dilemma inevitably requires interdependent institutions and administrations which often do not have the minimum prerequisites for effective work to address the problems associated with child labor. Therefore, undertaking structural and institutional reforms to provide adequate working conditions is an urgent issue that should be a top priority to put into motion a national strategy to combat child labor, including:

Provide the necessary human and technical resources for the child protection commission because it currently does not have enough specialists. It also needs to be provided with the necessary equipment that would allow it to follow up on all cases without any hindrance.

Guarantee the financial and legal independence of the commission by providing a legal team to ensure work does not face any bureaucratic difficulties or obstacles. This is because if the commission is too closely associated with state institutions, its work will be impeded.   

Emphasizing the importance of coordination and collaboration between the Committee on Women’s Affairs and all parliamentary committees, i.e. working on a unified project aimed at protecting children, to avoid fragmentation and dispersion, would establish a united higher purpose.

Include civil society, in particular associations concerned by the issue, in parliamentary sessions on child protection. The implementation of a participatory strategy would be advantageous because civil society organizations have greater insight into the issue.

The alignment of legislation is vital to protect children

Reform and construction of a unified national vision are not possible without reviewing the current laws, defining concepts, and filling legislative gaps. Therefore, to fill the legislative void, due to ambiguous and widely interpretable texts, the legislative branch must take a clear decision on the issue of child labor to avoid any confusion. This would include setting clear legal conditions for authorizing children to in distinct social and economic conditions, especially outside of official school hours. Also, the Child Protection Code would need to be revised to ensure all children’s rights are effectively protected.

The preparation of special work contracts for child laborers to ensure that they are not financially and morally exploited is also a necessary reform. This means that the legislative branch must draft a clause to address this issue both in the Labor Code and in the Code of Obligations and Contracts so that employers comply with them and are subject to legal procedures.


  • The Ministry of Women, Family, Children and the Elderly should provide the necessary human and technical resources to the child protection commission and provide a legal team that would allow them to work effectively.
  • The legislative branch should take a clear decision on the issue of child labor and set clear conditions in legal texts that would allow child labor in certain social and economic circumstances. Therefore, the legislative branch should revise the Child Protection Code and enshrine the full rights of children while ensuring their effective protection.
  • The Ministry of Social Affairs should form a steering committee, which includes relevant CSOs, to initiate the national strategy to combat child labor in Tunisia. 

[1]  According to statistics from the general delegation for child protection in the annual report of the National Authority for the fight against trafficking in persons. [2]  National Institute of Statistics and UNICEF (2013) Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey: A Summary of the Most Important Results 2013, Ministry of Development and International Cooperation. Available at  [3]  Presentation of the results of the first national survey on child labor in Tunisia. The Ministry of Social Affairs. Available at  [4]  Tunisian Women’s Association for Development Research (2016) Let us all work for the eradication of the employment of underage girls in domestic work. Available at  [5]  Al Hakaek al Arbaâ (2019) Begging gangs in Tunisia. Episode 26.  [6]  Ben Hamadi, Monia and Touihri, Aymen (2018) At the heart of trafficking minors for domestic work in Tunisia. Inkyfada. Available at  [7]  Article 58 of the Labor Code. [8] Law on Human trafficking. August 3, 2016 [9]  Article 20, Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women. August 11, 2017 [10]  The National Strategy to Combat Child Labor in Tunisia, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the International Labor Office. Available at:

Le contributeur


Committed to studying the impact of politics and economics on social issues, she writes the bare reality to try to awake the minds of readers from their denial state.

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