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Business and Child Labour

Document | 01 September 2010

Child labour is work that harms the child’s well-being and hinders his or her education, development and future livelihood. Two ILO Conventions – the Minimum Age Convention No. 138 and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182 - provide the framework for national law to define a clear line between what is acceptable and what is not, including a minimum age for admission to employment or work. This minimum age should not be less than the age for completing compulsory schooling, and in general not less than 15 years.

The 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work calls for the effective abolition of child labour. This means that all ILO member States have an obligation to abolish child labour within their territories regardless of whether they have ratified the relevant Conventions; and all companies should contribute to such efforts in the country they operate in as well as to the global effort to eliminate all forms of child labour.

Developing countries have the option to set the minimum age at 14 and 12 for “light work” as a transitional measure. Many developing countries, however, have chosen to adopt the minimum ages of 15 or even 16, so it is essential to check national legislation on minimum age to ensure compliance with the national law.

The minimum age for hazardous work is 18 years for all countries. Hazardous work is defined as work which is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of the child because of its nature or the working conditions and has to be listed by national legislation after consultation with employers and trade unions. Even young persons who have attained the minimum age for employment in general but are not yet 18 years of age should not be engaged in hazardous work. Hazardous child labour is one of the “worst forms of child labour” which requires urgent and immediate action. Over 90% of ILO member States have ratified the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182, so it is important to be aware of national legislation on “hazardous work”.

Not all work by a person under the age of 18 is child labour. It depends both on the age and on the types and conditions of work. Child labour should not be confused with “youth employment” as from the minimum working age, young people should be able to engage in decent work, but still need protection from hazardous work and other worst forms of child labour. There are also flexibilities for “light work” which is permissible as from 13 (or 12, if the minimum age is set at 14) years of age by school-going children if authorized and monitored by the relevant authorities.

Q&As on Business and Child Labour

  • Company policies to prevent child labour and ensure that children go to school
  • Child labour situation in a specific country
  • Birth certificates and verification of worker’s age
  • Married girls and child labour
  • Apprenticeship and child labour
  • Child labour and youth employment

Tags: child labour, enterprises

Regions and countries covered: Global

Unit responsible: Enterprises Department (ENTERPRISES)

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