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Avoiding Child Labour

Adapted from content excerpted from Better Work, a partnership of IFC and the International Labour Organization

Child labour is work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children. It interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school, obliging them to leave school prematurely or to combine school attendance with excessively long and/or heavy work.

Not all work done by children is classified as child labour that should be eliminated. Work that does not affect children’s health and personal development or schooling can be constructive, such as helping around the home or in a family business or earning pocket money outside school time. Whether a job is classified as child labour depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, and the impact of the work on the child's health, development and access to education.

Child Labourers

  • Workers must have reached the minimum legal age before they start work.
  • National law may allow for workers age 12-15 to do light work outside of school hours.

Worst Forms of Child Labour

The worst forms of child labour are forbidden in all cases, regardless of national law. They include work that is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children or work that exposes them to physical, sexual or psychological abuse. The latter can arise in workplaces where children frequently are shouted at, insulted or hit.

Hazardous Work

Workers under the age of 18 should only be allowed to undertake hazardous work if they are at least 16 years old; their health, safety and morals are fully protected; and they are adequately trained to do the work. Most industries involve some form of hazardous work.

Some common examples include:

  • handling toxic chemicals;
  • carrying heavy loads;
  • working at heights or in confined spaces; and
  • using dangerous equipment or tools. 

National law should set out a list of jobs that are considered hazardous. Certain types of work may be prohibited for workers under age 18 under any circumstances.

Youth under the age of 18 should not be required to work overtime or at night, as this is considered harmful for them.


Often national law requires employers to keep records that document the age of workers and/or to keep a register of workers under the age of 18. These practices can provide evidence to show that the employer is complying with national laws on child labour.

Types of employer action that can lead to non-compliance

  • Hiring workers who have not yet reached minimum working age.
  • Engaging workers under age 18 in work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals, or to work that could expose them to physical, sexual or psychological abuse.
  • Employing workers under age 18 in hazardous work without meeting the necessary conditions and training requirements for them to perform the work.
  • Allowing workers under age 18 to work overtime or at night.
  • Failing to verify workers’ ages prior to hiring, or to comply with national law regarding documentation of workers under age 18.

Key action points for employers

  • Check the minimum age for employment according to national law.
  • Create a procedure to ensure that all workers are above the minimum legal working age at the time of hiring (e.g., asking for identity documents to check dates of birth).
  • Ensure that workers age 12-15 are only doing light work outside school hours in accordance with national law, or working in a government-approved training program.
  • Make sure that workers under 18 are not exposed to verbal or physical abuse in the workplace.
  • Make sure that workers under 18 are not required to work under hazardous conditions unless all conditions and requirements are satisfied.
  • Check to see whether national law sets out a list of prohibited jobs for workers under age 18.
  • Do not permit overtime or night work for young workers.
  • Check national law for additional restrictions on working hours for workers under age 18.
  • At a minimum, ensure that young workers have at least 12 hours of rest each day and one day off work per week.
  • Keep a register of all workers under age 18, and comply with national requirements to document workers’ ages.


Copyright © 2010-2016, International Finance Corporation and International Labour Organization. All Rights Reserved.

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