International standards


Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) says children should be “protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”  It also provides that states should set a minimum age limit and take other relevant measures.  Article 34 says children should be protected from sexual exploitation, including prostitution.

Child labour is also prohibited in International Labour Organization standards.  Article 2 of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work calls for the effective abolition of child labour.  This means that all ILO member States have an obligation to abolish child labour within their territories regardless of whether they have ratified the relevant Conventions.

ILO Convention No. 138 on the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment and Work and the accompanying Recommendation No. 146 provide for states to create national standards on minimum age for employment.  Generally, the minimum age cannot be below 15 years of age, although exceptions are possible to provide for an age limit of 14.  Any work that is likely to jeopardise the health, safety or morals of young persons shall have an age limit of 18 years (16 if certain assurances are provided). 

The ILO Convention No 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour and accompanying Recommendation No. 190 were adopted to push for immediate action against the worst forms of child labour.  The provisions apply to every person under the age of 18 years.  Article 3 defines the Worst Forms of Child Labour to include:

a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;

(b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;

(c) 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;

(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.”

The International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights article 10 (3) and other international and regional instruments also provide provisions on child labour.