National Legislation and Policies Against Child Labour
in Sri Lanka
Under the Constitution of Sri Lanka, 1978, Article 27 (13) Directive
Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties, the State pledges
to 'promote with special care the interest of children and youth
so as to ensure their full development, physical, mental, moral,
religious, and social, and to protect them from exploitation and
In addition, the Draft Constitution (August 2000) Article 22, entitled
Special Rights for Children, gives constitutional guarantees to
the right of a child to be protected from abuse; to have access
to free education between the ages of 5 and 14, and to not be employed
in any hazardous activity. It also defines conclusively a child
as a person under the age of 18 years.
Minimum age for employment
The minimum age for employment of children was raised to 14 years in December 1999 by an
amendment to the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act (No. 47), 1956.
At present, the minimum age of employment in all sectors is 14 years. Further, through
the Ministry of Labour, the legislation has been amended to provide for payment of compensation
to victims, by employers violating the minimum age of employment laws.
In April, 2006 the Penal Code was amended to reflect the international standards prescribed by the ILO Convention No. 182 and now deems the trafficking of persons for exploitative employment as a crime. The Penal Code was also amended in 2006 to recognize the recruitment of children in armed conflict as a crime, even where such recruitment is not forced or compulsory in nature.
Hazardous Child Labour
In August 2006, there has been a change in the legislation which now
empowers the Ministry of Labour to enact laws that prohibit the employment
of children in hazardous forms of child labour. Accordingly, a list of
hazardous forms of child labour is in the process of being finalized.
Under the regulations framed in 1997, under the Education Ordinance of 1940, education and attendance at school were made compulsory for every Sri Lankan child aged between 5 and 14 years.
Sri Lanka is a signatory to the:
- ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182);
- ILO Minimum Age for Employment Convention (No. 138);
- ILO Forced Labour Convention (No. 29);
- ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105);
- UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Government policies and programmes
Since 1994, the Government of Sri Lanka has given high priority
to the protection of children from physical and sexual abuse, from
exploitation through child labour, and from the effects of armed
conflict. In 1996, a Presidential Task Force on the prevention and
control of child abuse was set up, which made far-reaching recommendations,
including the establishment of a National Child Protection Authority
(NCPA) functioning under the direct purview of the Executive President.
The NCPA was established in June 1999. The basic goal of the NCPA
is the elimination of child abuse in all its forms and manifestations.
The NCPA operates in four main areas: protection, advocacy, rehabilitation,
and legal reform. Since very often, child abuse entails an element
of trafficking, the NCPA is the pre-eminent national agency driving
the anti-trafficking mission. With support from the ILO's International
Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), the NCPA has
initiated an anti-trafficking unit. The powers and functions of
the NCPA and its strategic location under the Executive President
eminently qualify it to be the coordinating agency with the relevant
ministries, provincial councils, local authorities, and private
as well as public sector organizations.
In March 2001, Sri Lanka ratified the ILO Convention No. 182 and
subsequently developed a National Plan of Action (NPA) to combat
trafficking of children for sexual and labour exploitation, with
support from the IPEC project for combating child trafficking for
labour and sexual exploitation.
In October 2002, the Ministry of Employment and Labour took the initiative to begin developing a national policy and plan of action to eliminate the worst forms of child labour as a matter of priority and requested ILO assistance to do so. This process was a participatory one with stakeholder participation that went beyond the alliance of the ILO's constituents and was undertaken at the national as well as local levels. A Domestic Workers Act has also been developed with support from a trade union, named the National Workers Congress (NWC).
In October 2006, the Government of Sri Lanka presented its Ten Year Development Plan known as the Mahinda Chinthanaya -- one of the leading and guiding documents in respect to the development policies of the country. The issue of child labour is well articulated in several chapters therein. The new government policy also gives special focus to the plantation sector which is a prime sending area for child domestic workers, children in small factories and boutiques and other forms of exploitative employment, including the trafficking of children as child soldiers.
In September 2007 A Youth Employment Policy & National Action Plan, supported by the ILO, was presented for public comments and feedback. The policy takes into consideration the importance of eliminating child labour by placing great emphasis on the issue of access to quality education.