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Child Labour

International Conventions on child labour

A Convention is an international agreement between countries. These are usually developed by the United Nations or other international organizations. Governments that ratify Conventions are obliged to incorporate them into their own laws and to make sure that these laws are applied and respected.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the complete range of human rights for children, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. The Convention defines a child as anyone below the age of 18 years and spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere should have, including the right to protection from economic exploitation (Article 32) and the right to education (Article 28). It is the most endorsed human rights treaty in the world, ratified by all but two countries.

The two main Conventions focusing specifically on child labour, on minimum age for admission to employment and on the worst forms of child labour, were developed by the International Labour Organization (ILO). It is important that countries both ratify the Conventions, and take positive action to both end child labour and support the rehabilitation and education of former child labourers.

Convention No. 138 on the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, 1973

As mentioned previously, child labour is work that children should not be doing because they are too young to work, or – if they have reached the minimum age – because it is dangerous or otherwise unsuitable for them. Countries that ratify this Convention undertake a legal promise to stop child labour and make sure that children below a certain “minimum age” are not employed. At the end of 2010, this Convention had been ratified by 156 of the 183 member States of the ILO.

The framework as to the minimum age is as follows:

 

The minimum age at which children can start work

Possible exceptions for developing countries

Hazardous work
Any work which is likely to jeopardise children’s health, safety or morals should not be done by anyone under the age of 18

18 (16 under strict conditions)

18 (16 under strict conditions)

Basic Minimum Age
The minimum age for work should not be below the age for finishing compulsory schooling, which is generally 15

15

14

Light work
Children between the ages of 13 and 15 years old may do light work, as long as it does not threaten their health and safety, or hinder their education or vocational orientation and training.

13-15

12-14

Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999

This Convention covers all boys and girls under the age of 18 in line with the definition of the child under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It calls for ‘immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency.’ At the end of 2010, this Convention had been ratified by 173 of the 183 member States of the ILO.

The Convention defines these worst forms, to be prohibited to all persons under 18 years, as:

  1. all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced of compulsory labour, including forced of compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
  2. the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or pornographic performances;
  3. the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;
  4. 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.

The term ‘worst forms of child labour’ encompasses both hazardous work (d) and other worst forms (a) to (c). The difference is that while hazardous work, through changes in the work environment and the work itself, can sometimes be modified to remove the hazardous aspects, the other worst forms can under no circumstance be considered acceptable.

As to the exact types of work to be prohibited as hazardous work under item (d) above, the Convention leaves the matter to national determination after consultation with employers’ and workers’ organisations and taking into consideration relevant international standards.

Convention No. 182 complements Convention No. 138, which in its turn provides the basic framework for national and international action for the elimination of child labour. Convention No. 182 focuses on the worst forms as a priority target, while Convention No. 138 sets forth the ultimate long term objective of the effective abolition of child labour, and also clarifies what should be targeted as child labour by providing for the minimum age standards.

As specified in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998), the ILO Conventions No. 182 and No. 138 on child labour are considered as “core” Conventions.  This means that all ILO Member States, even if they have not ratified the Conventions, have an obligation arising from the very fact of membership in the Organization to respect, to promote and to realize the principles concerning such fundamental rights.  The four areas covered by the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work are:

  1. freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
  2. the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;
  3. the effective abolition of child labour; and
  4. the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

Click here for the full text of ILO Conventions Nos. 138 & 182.  The ILO has also developed a youth friendly version of ILO Convention No. 182.