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12 June

Child Labour
What is meant by child labour?

Child labour means work that is prohibited for children of

certain age groups. It is work performed by children who are
under the minimum age legally specified for that kind of work,
or work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions,
is considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited.

Today, throughout the world, around 215 million children work,

many full-time. They do not go to school and have little or no time
to play. Many do not receive proper nutrition or care. They are
denied the chance to be children. More than half of them are
exposed to the worst forms of child labour such as work in
hazardous environments, slavery, or other forms of forced labour,
illicit activities including drug trafficking and prostitution, as well
as involvement in armed conflict.
Guided by the principles enshrined in the ILO's Minimum Age
Convention No. 138 and the Worst Forms of Child Labour
Convention No. 182, the ILO InFocus Programme on Child Labour
(IPEC) works to achieve the effective abolition of child labour.
Labour Standards
One of the major aims set for the International Labour
Organization (ILO) at its foundation in 1919 was the abolition of
child labour. Historically, the ILOs principal tool in pursuing the
goal of effective abolition of child labour has been the adoption
and supervision of labour standards that embody the concept of a
minimum age for admission to employment or work. Furthermore,
from 1919 onwards the principle that minimum age standards
should be linked to schooling has been part of the ILOs tradition

in standard setting in this area. Convention No. 138 provides that

the minimum age for admission to employment shall not be less
than the age of completion of compulsory schooling.
The ILOs adoption of Convention No. 182 in 1999 consolidated
the global consensus on child labour elimination. It provided
much-needed focus without abandoning the overarching goal,
expressed in Convention No. 138, of the effective abolition of child
labour. Moreover, the concept of the worst forms helps set
priorities and can be used as an entry point in tackling the
mainstream child labour problem. The concept also helps to direct
attention to the impact of work on children, as well as the work
they perform.
Child labour that is proscribed under international law falls into
three categories:

The unconditional worst forms of child labour, which are

internationally defined as slavery, trafficking, debt bondage
and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment of children
for use in armed conflict, prostitution and pornography, and
illicit activities.

Labour performed by a child who is under the minimum

age specified for that kind of work (as defined by national
legislation, in accordance with accepted international
standards), and that is thus likely to impede the childs
education and full development.

Labour that jeopardizes the physical, mental or moral wellbeing of a child, either because of its nature or because of the
conditions in which it is carried out, known as hazardous
An Encouraging Trend
The new global estimates and trends are presented in terms of
three categories:

economically active children,

child labour and

children in hazardous work.

The new estimates suggest that there were about 317 million
economically active children aged 5 to 17 in 2004, of whom 218
million could be regarded as child labourers. Of the latter, 126
million were engaged in hazardous work. The corresponding
figures for the narrower age group of 5 to 14 yearolds are 191
million economically active children, 166 million child labourers,
and 74 million children in hazardous work. The number of child
labourers in both age groups of 5-14 and 5-17 fell by 11 per cent
over the four years from 2000 to 2004. However, the decline was
much greater for those engaged in hazardous work: by 26 per
cent for the 5-17 age group, and 33 per cent for 5 to 14 year-olds.
The incidence of child labour (percentage of children working) in
2004 is estimated at 13.9 per cent for the 5-17 age group,
compared to 16 per cent in 2000. The proportion of girls among
child labourers, however, remained steady.
The global picture that emerges is thus highly encouraging: Child
work is declining, and the more harmful the work and the more
vulnerable the children involved, the faster the decline.
Minimum Age for Work
The minimum age for admission to employment among the
member States ratifying Convention No. 138

15 - 73 member States

16 - 41 member States

14 - 49 member States

One of the most effective methods of ensuring that children do

not start working too young is to set the age at which children can
legally be employed or otherwise work. The main principles of the

ILOs Convention concerning the minimum age of admission to

employment and work are listed below.

Hazardous work
Any work which is likely to jeopardize childrens physical,
mental or moral heath, safety or morals should not be done by
anyone under the age of 18.

Basic Minimum Age

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

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.
Understanding the Problem
Few child labour cases make it to Court

Despite some positive enforcement developments it still

appears that few cases concerning child labour make it to the
Courts. Only 1.5 per cent of reports received by the CEACR
concerning child labour contain information on Court decisions.
This compares with 8 per cent of the CEACR reports on
discrimination.7.8 per cent on forced labour and 5.8 per cent
on freedom of association.

A better conceptual grasp of child labour has also gone hand in

hand with a better understanding of the shape of the problem and
its causes.
Across All Economic Sectors
The 2002 Global Report indicated that the vast majority (70 per
cent) of childrens work is concentrated in the agricultural sector
and that the informal economy harbours most child labour across
all economic sectors.

In addition, gender plays a significant role in determining the

different types of work done by girls and boys. For example, girls
predominate in domestic work, while boys are heavily represented
in mining and quarrying. The situation is made worse when, as for
domestic work in many countries, the kind of work is excluded
from regulation in a large proportion of countries.
Our understanding of the causes of child labour has also become
more sophisticated as different academic perspectives have been
brought to bear on the problem. Seeing child labour as a product
of market forces supply and demand has been a fruitful
approach, taking in the behaviour of employers as well as of
individual households.
Child Labour and Poverty
Poverty and economic shocks clearly play an important if not a
key role in determining the market for child labour. Child labour in
turn contributes to the perpetuation of poverty. For example,
recent empirical findings by the World Bank from Brazil
demonstrate that early entry into the labour force reduces
lifetime earnings by some 13 to 20 per cent, increasing signifi
cantly the probability of being poor later in life.
However, poverty in itself is not a sufficient explanation of child
labour, and it certainly fails to explain some of the unconditional
worst forms of child labour.
Child Labour and Human Rights
A human rights perspective is necessary for a fuller
understanding of child labour, as it focuses on discrimination and
exclusion as contributing factors. The most vulnerable groups
when it comes to child labour are often those subject to
discrimination and exclusion: girls, ethnic minorities and
indigenous and tribal peoples, those of low class or caste, people
with disabilities, displaced persons and those living in remote

The United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children

in 2002 endorsed a mainstreaming approach placing child
labour on the development agenda. This implied that a new
ambition had to be set for the worldwide movement against child
labour. In political terms this means putting child labour on the
agenda of fi nance and planning ministries after all, the
worldwide movement has to convince governments to act to end
child labour. Child labour elimination comes down to a set of
political choices rather than a technocratic exercise. And
everyday realities of instability and crisis challenge attempts at
making progress