Credit: ILO Asia-Pacific
Credit: ILO Asia-Pacific

What is child labour?

published 9 May 2021 updated 7 July 2021

Child labour refers to work that is a) mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and that b) interferes with children’s 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 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as any person less than 18 years of age. Child labour is employment or work carried out by a child below the minimum legal working age set by a country in accordance with ILO Convention 138(generally 14 or 15 years with possible exceptions for light work from the ages of 12 or 13); or any work undertaken by a child below the age of 18 that constitutes a worst form of child labour as defined by ILO Convention 182. This includes work or economic activities which is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children (often referred to as hazardous work).

Child labour includes work carried out by children, whether paid or unpaid or in the formal or informal economy if it is prejudicial to schooling or harmful to health and development. However, work performed in or around the home without a negative impact on the child’s schooling, health or development is not regarded as child labour. This is sometimes referred to as ‘socialising work’ or the socialisation of the child through work experience.