The term “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that:
is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or
interferes with their schooling by: depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.
The worst forms of child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age. Whether or not particular forms of “work” can be called “child labour” depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and the objectives pursued by individual countries. The answer varies from country to country, as well as among sectors within countries.
The worst forms of child labour
Whilst child labour takes many different forms, a priority is to eliminate without delay the worst forms of child labour as defined by Article 3 of ILO Convention No. 182 :
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;
the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
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;
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.
Hazardous child labour
Hazardous child labour or hazardous work is the 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.
Guidance for governments on some hazardous work activities which should be prohibited is given by Article 3 of ILO Recommendation No. 190 :
1. work which exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse;
2. work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces;
3. work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads;
4. work in an unhealthy environment which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging to their health;
5. work under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours or during the night or work where the child is unreasonably confined to the premises of the employer.
What is hazardous child labour?
Hazardous child labour is defined by Article 3 (d) of ILO Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999 (No. 182) as:
(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.
Hazardous child labour is the largest category of the worst forms of child labour with an estimated 73 million children, aged 5-17, working in dangerous conditions in a wide range of sectors, including agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, as well as in hotels, bars, restaurants, markets, and domestic service. It is found in both industrialised and developing countries. Girls and boys often start carrying out hazardous work at very early ages. Worldwide, the ILO estimates that some 22,000 children are killed at work every year. The numbers of those injured or made ill because of their work are not known.
Because their bodies and minds are still developing, children are more vulnerable than adults to workplace hazards, and the consequences of hazardous work are often more devastating and lasting for them.
“Hazard” and “risk” are two terms that are used frequently in association with this type of child labour. A “hazard” is anything with the potential to do harm. A “risk” is the likelihood of potential harm from that hazard being realized. For example, the hazard associated with power-driven machinery might be getting trapped or entangled by moving parts. The risk will be high if guards are not fitted and workers are in close proximity to the machine. If however, the machine is properly guarded, regularly maintained and repaired by competent staff, the risk will be lower.
The shocking information, that while hazardous child labour among older children continued to decrease between 2012 and 2016, it increased among children aged 5-11 years, means we need renewed commitment to integrated approaches to address child labour of all types.