Hazardous child labour is defined by Article 3 (d) of ILO Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999 (No. 182) as:
(d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.
More specifically, hazardous child labour is work in dangerous or unhealthy conditions that could result in a child being killed, or injured and/or made ill as a consequence of poor safety and health standards and working arrangements. Some injuries or ill health may result in permanent disability. Often health problems caused by working as a child labour may not develop or show up until the child is an adult.
Hazardous child labour is the largest category of the worst forms of child labour with an estimated 115 million children, aged 5-17, working in dangerous conditions in sectors as diverse as agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, service industries, hotels, bars, restaurants, fast food establishments, and domestic service. It is found in both industrialised and developing countries. Girls and boys often start carrying out hazardous work at very early ages. Worldwide, the ILO estimates that some 22,000 children are killed at work every year. The numbers of those injured or made ill because of their work are not known.
Child labourers are susceptible to all the dangers faced by adult workers when placed in the same situation. However, the work hazards and risks that affect adult workers can affect child labourers even more strongly. The results of lack of safety and health protection can often be more devastating and lasting for them. It can result in more fatal and non-fatal accidents, permanent disabilities/ill health, and psychological/behavioural/emotional damage.
When speaking of child labourers it is important to go beyond the concepts of work hazard and risk1 as applied to adult workers and to expand them to include the developmental aspects of childhood. Because children are still growing they have special characteristics and needs that must be taken into consideration when determining workplace hazards and the risks associated with them, in terms of physical, cognitive (thought/learning) and behavioural development and emotional growth.
1 “Hazard” and “risk” are two terms that are used frequently in association with this type of child labour. A “hazard” is anything with the potential to do harm. A “risk” is the likelihood of potential harm from that hazard being realized. For example, the hazard associated with power-driven machinery might be getting trapped or entangled by moving parts. The risk will be high if guards are not fitted and workers are in close proximity to the machine. If however, the machine is properly guarded, regularly maintained and repaired by competent staff, then the risk will be lower.