How did research with working children influence child labour policy in the late 1990s and early 2000s? What were the constraints to research findings exerting greater influence over international policy? This paper explores these questions against the backdrop of studies with working children in Jakarta, Indonesia in 1994, 1995 and 1999. It is suggested that rights-based, children-centred research is a potential means of gaining insights into the lives of working children. As such, research has a role to play in informing policy. An analysis of international debates during the 1990s indicates that the findings of research with children did exert some influence over international child labour policy in the 1990s, but there were limits to the extent of that influence. In seeking to explain these limits, this article explores the tension between research that recognises and reports children's agency and the structural constraints that militate against children's views, experiences and priorities being translated into policy.