International Labour Standards on Child labour

Child labour is a violation of fundamental human rights and has been shown to hinder children's development, potentially leading to lifelong physical or psychological damage. Evidence points to a strong link between household poverty and child labour, and child labour perpetuates poverty across generations by keeping children of the poor out of school and limiting their prospects for upward social mobility. This lowering of human capital has been linked to slow economic growth and social development. A recent ILO study has shown that eliminating child labour in transition and developing economies could generate economic benefits nearly seven times greater than the costs, mostly associated with investment in better schooling and social services. (Note 1) ILO standards on child labour are primary international legal tools for fighting this problem.

Selected relevant ILO instruments

  • Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) - [ratifications]
    This fundamental convention sets the general minimum age for admission to employment or work at 15 years (13 for light work) and the minimum age for hazardous work at 18 (16 under certain strict conditions). It provides for the possibility of initially setting the general minimum age at 14 (12 for light work) where the economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed.
  • Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) - [ratifications]
    This fundamental convention defines as a "child" a person under 18 years of age. It requires ratifying states to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, including all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; child prostitution and pornography; using children for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs; and work which is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. The convention requires ratifying states to provide the necessary and appropriate direct assistance for the removal of children from the worst forms of child labour and for their rehabilitation and social integration. It also requires states to ensure access to free basic education and, wherever possible and appropriate, vocational training for children removed from the worst forms of child labour.
  • Further relevant instruments

Further information

  • General Survey on the Fundamental Conventions (2012) - [pdf]
  • International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour: IPEC
  • The end of child labour: within reach: Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (2006)

Note 1 - ILO: Investing in Every Child: An economic study of the costs and benefits of eliminating child labour (Geneva, IPEC, 2004), pp. 4-5.