What is child labour?


There are many definitions and interpretations of child labour. Some organisations advocate for a child’s right to work. It is a complex issue, so here we clarify what the ECLT Foundation means by chlid labour.

How We Define Child Labour

Child labour refers to any work that subjects a child to economic exploitation or is hazardous, or interferes with the child’s education, or is harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

Child labour is…

  • work that harms children’s well being and hinders their education, development and future livelihoods.
  • work which, by its nature and the way it is carried out, harms, abuses and exploits the child or deprives the child of an education.

Hazardous child labour


Hazardous work is dangerous or unhealthy by nature or because of the conditions, and could result in a child being killed, injured or made ill as a consequence. This type of work should be out of bounds for all children under 18 (even those reaching the minimum working age), and should be addressed as a priority in the fight against child labour.

Not all work is bad

Not all work that children undertake in agriculture is bad for them or is work that the ECLT Foundation seeks to eliminate. Below the minimum working age, light work that is of low risk and that does not interfere with children’s schooling or right to leisure time may be allowed from 12 or 13 years of age.

Legal instruments

The main international and legal instruments related to child labour are the Conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). To see the full text of these conventions follow these external links:

The ILO conventions numbers 138 and 182 on “Minimum age” (1973) and “Worst forms of child labour” (1999) respectively, specifically target child labour.

Convention 138

155 countries have ratified Convention 138. It requires that ratifying countries establish and pursue policies to effectively abolish child labour. The convention defines a minimum age for admission to employment or work, which shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling, so that the children can develop physically and mentally before entering the workforce.

The minimum age at which children can start work Possible exceptions for developing countries
Hazardous work
Any work which is likely to jeopardize children’s physical, mental or moral heath, safety or morals should not be done by anyone under the age of 18.
(16 under strict conditions)
(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 182

Convention 182 defines some practices of child labour as worst forms, which should be eliminated immediately. Worst forms are practices such as child slavery, forced labour, debt bondage, trafficking, serfdom, prostitution, pornography, and forms of work that are hazardous to a child’s health, safety and morals. 171 countries have ratified the convention. Each ratifying country has to establish a detailed list of work likely to harm the health, safety or morals of a child under 18. The convention requires the ratifying states, as a matter of urgency, to take effective measures to eradicate these worst forms of child labour.

Convention 184

In addition to the two conventions above, Convention 184 on “The safety and health in agriculture convention” (2001) specifies that “The minimum age for assignment to work in agriculture which by nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to harm the safety and the health of young persons (below age of 18 who have attained the minimum legal age for admission to employment) shall not be less than 18 years” (article 16).

“National law can authorize the performance of hazardous work from 16 years of age on the condition that appropriate prior training is given and the safety and health of the young workers are fully protected” (article 16(3).

To read the entire text of the ILO conventions and of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) please see links to external websites.

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