Effective abolition of child labour

ILO Conventions

Children enjoy the same human rights accorded to all people. But, lacking the knowledge, experience or physical development of adults and the power to defend their own interests in an adult world, children also have distinct rights to protection by virtue of their age. One of these is protection from economic exploitation and from work that is dangerous to the health and morals of children or which hampers the child's development.

The principle of the effective abolition of child labour means ensuring that every girl and boy has the opportunity to develop physically and mentally to her or his full potential. Its aim is to stop all work by children that jeopardises their education and development. This does not mean stopping all work performed by children. International labour standards allow the distinction to be made between what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable forms of work for children at different ages and stages of development.

The principle extends from formal employment to the informal economy where, indeed, the bulk of the unacceptable forms of child labour are to be found. It covers family-based enterprises, agricultural undertakings, domestic service and unpaid work carried out under various customary arrangements whereby children work in return for their keep.

To achieve the effective abolition of child labour, governments should fix and enforce a minimum age or ages at which children can enter into different kinds of work. Within limits, these ages may vary according to national social and economic circumstances. The general minimum age for admission to employment should not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and never be less than 15 years. But developing countries may make certain exceptions to this, and a minimum age of 14 years may be applied where the economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed. Sometimes, light work may be performed by children two years younger than the general minimum age.

Types of work now dubbed "the worst forms of child labour" are however totally unacceptable for all children under the age of 18 years, and their abolition is a matter for urgent and immediate action. These forms include such inhumane practices as slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour; prostitution and pornography; forced recruitment of children for military purposes; and the use of children for illicit activities such as the trafficking of drugs. Forms of dangerous work that can harm the health, safety or morals of children & subject to national determination, by government in consultation with workers' and employers' organisations.

In any effective strategy to abolish child labour, provision of relevant and accessible basic education is central. But education must be embedded in a whole range of other measures, aiming at combating the many factors, such as poverty, lack of awareness of children's rights and inadequate systems of social protection, that give rise to child labour and allow it to persist.