Current economic and political trends present particular challenges for countries dealing with the development of industry without the social infrastructure needed to uphold citizens’ rights. As free trade demands competitiveness in global markets, so the demand for cheap labour rises. This has specific implications for children. This article argues that despite new legislation to fulfil the requirements of international mandates (such as the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Labor Organization Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour), rights-based programming does not sufficiently incorporate the perspectives of poor children and their family members. This article draws on recent ethnographic research that pioneered a collaborative model in which government, voluntary, private, and trade union organisations conducted research to compare the impact of current approaches to child labour on the livelihoods of working children. It shows that in failing to incorporate sociocultural understanding in programme planning, services fail to maximise their potential in offering children opportunities to end the cycle of poverty.