Measuring Child Labor: the Who’s, the Where’s, the When’s, and the Why’s

37 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2022 Last revised: 16 Feb 2023

See all articles by Guilherme Lichand

Guilherme Lichand

University of Zurich - Department of Economics

Sharon Wolf

University of Pennsylvania

Date Written: February 15, 2023


Measuring child labor accurately is a major challenge. While parents’ and children’s reports tend to differ dramatically, there is typically no way to verify whose reports are truthful (if any). To overcome this challenge, this paper uses novel data from a cocoa certifier in Côte d’Ivoire that draws on satellite imagery to minimize under-reporting. Concretely, aerial photos allow them (1) to select remote and hard-to-reach communities, where parents typically have not been sensitized by government or NGOs, averting social desirability biases; and (2) to visit these communities while cocoa is being harvested, precisely when children in employment are very visible, making it easier for enumerators to impute it if parents still fail to report it. We compare their figures with those obtained from business-as-usual surveys with parents and children in these regions. We find that
adults dramatically under-report child labor relative to the certifier data, by a factor of at least 60%; in turn, children self-reports are statistically identical to the latter. Taking advantage of an experiment that randomly assigned a text-message campaign to discourage child labor, we further show that parents’ reports not only underestimate its prevalence, but can even lead to the wrong conclusions about the effects of policy interventions.

Suggested Citation

Lichand, Guilherme and Wolf, Sharon, Measuring Child Labor: the Who’s, the Where’s, the When’s, and the Why’s (February 15, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Guilherme Lichand (Contact Author)

University of Zurich - Department of Economics ( email )


Sharon Wolf

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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