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close this bookAction Against Child Labour (ILO; 2000; 356 pages)
View the documentPreface
Open this folder and view contents1. National policies and programmes
close this folder2. Towards improved legislation
View the documentINTRODUCTION
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentNational policy
View the documentCoverage of the law (scope of application)
View the documentGeneral minimum age for admission to employment or work
View the documentMinimum age for light work
View the documentMinimum age for hazardous work
View the documentConditions of employment
View the documentForced labour
View the documentEnforcement
View the document2.7 LESSONS LEARNED
View the documentChecklist 2.1 General principles
View the documentChecklist 2.2 Improving national legislation
View the documentChecklist 2.3 Legislation on bonded labour
View the documentChecklist 2.4 Involving employers' and workers' organizations, and others
View the documentAppendix 2.1 ILO Conventions on child labour and forced labour (as at 31 July 1999)
View the documentAppendix 2.2 Minimum ages in ILO Conventions
View the documentAppendix 2.3 Ratification of ILO Conventions on child labour and forced labour (as at 31 August 1999)
View the documentAppendix 2.4 Chart of ratifications of ILO Conventions on child labour and forced labour by country (as at 31 August 1999:
View the documentAppendix 2.5 Excerpts from selected ILO standards on child labour
Open this folder and view contents3. Improving the knowledge base on child labour
Open this folder and view contents4. Alternatives to child labour
Open this folder and view contents5. Strategies to address child slavery
Open this folder and view contents6. Strategies for employers and their organizations
Open this folder and view contents7. Trade unions against child labour
Open this folder and view contents8. Awareness-raising
Open this folder and view contents9. Action by community groups and NGOs
Open this folder and view contents10. Resources on child labour
View the documentOther ILO publications
View the documentBack Cover


One of the most important tools available to the ILO for improving the legislation and practice of its member States in the fight against child labour is the adoption and supervision of international labour Conventions and Recommendations.3 These international instruments are elaborated through a tripartite process which involves governments, employers' and workers' organizations. They are debated and adopted by the ILO's International Labour Conference, which is composed of government, employer and worker delegates from the 174 member States.

3 For a detailed technical explanation of the procedures for adoption and implementation of international labour Conventions and Recommendations, see ILO: Handbook of procedures relating to international labour Conventions and Recommendations, International Labour Standards Department (Geneva, Rev. 1/1995).

Box 2.2. ILO Conventions and Recommendations

International labour Conventions are open to ratification by ILO member States. A country that ratifies a Convention has legal obligations to apply the provisions of the Convention in law and practice.

ILO Recommendations do not create binding obligations and are not open to ratification. Rather, Recommendations give guidance as to policy, legislation and practice. They often supplement Conventions.

After they are adopted, Conventions become open to ratification by the member States. States which ratify ILO Conventions subject themselves to supervisory machinery which involves regular reporting to the ILO on the application of ratified Conventions; examination and public comment by ILO supervisory bodies (Committee of Experts and Conference Committee)4 on the extent of compliance; and a complaints procedure for investigating and acting upon complaints alleging non-compliance made by governments of other ratifying States or by employers' or workers' organizations. Member States may seek technical assistance from the ILO in preparing for ratifying Conventions and in applying them.

4 The supervisory bodies referred to in this book are the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (referred to as the Committee of Experts) and the tripartite Committee on the Application of Standards of the International Labour Conference (referred to as the Conference Committee). The Committee of Experts is a body of independent experts entrusted with the technical examination of reports supplied by governments to the ILO, as well as other relevant information, concerning the application of ILO standards. The report of the Committee of Experts is discussed by the Conference Committee which reports to the International Labour Conference.

Even if a country has not ratified a Convention, Conventions and Recommendations provide guidance and are statements of international consensus on issues.

From time to time, ILO member States are asked to submit reports on the status of their law and practice concerning matters dealt with in selected Conventions, even if they have not ratified them, and in Recommendations. These surveys, along with reports from countries which have ratified the particular Convention, provide a good overview of the situation on the subject matter of the instruments and the extent to which the principles of international labour standards are applied.

The concern for the safety, health and development of children underlies the ILO instruments on child labour. Interference with the growth and development of children affects not only their health, but their long-term prospects. Placing priority on the healthy growth and development of children, including their education, means limiting access to work and, depending upon age and type of work, prohibiting it altogether.

The ILO adopted its first Convention on child labour in 1919, the year of its formation: the Minimum Age (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No. 5), prohibits the work of children under the age of 14 in industrial establishments. Subsequently, nine sectoral Conventions on the minimum age of admission to employment were adopted applying to industry, agriculture, trimmers and stokers, maritime work, non-industrial employment, fishing and underground work (see Appendix 2.1).

Finally, as the above instruments cover specific economic sectors and occupations only, the ILO decided to adopt one comprehensive instrument towards the total abolition of child labour, the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138). It applies to all sectors of economic activity and whether or not children are employed for wages. It covers work done by children both for another person and on their own behalf (self-employment). This book sets out the provisions of Convention No. 138 and its accompanying Recommendation, the Minimum Age Recommendation, 1973 (No. 146), as they provide a comprehensive guide to drafting national legislation. Even though the Convention is broad in scope and coverage, some flexibility is provided. This flexibility is expressed in provisions which allow for exclusions or exceptions under certain circumstances; some of these provisions apply to all countries, while others are designed specifically for developing countries.

Box 2.3. ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (excerpt)

The International Labour Conference "declares that all Members, even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question, have an obligation arising from the very fact of membership in the Organization, to respect, to promote and to realize, in good faith and in accordance with the Constitution, the principles concerning the fundamental rights which are the subject of those Conventions, namely:

(a) freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;

(b) the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;

(c) the effective abolition of child labour; and

(d) the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation."

Box 2.4. The Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)

National policy

• Ratifying States undertake "to pursue a national policy designed to ensure the effective abolition of child labour and to raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons".

• Recommendation No. 146 provides guidance on necessary policy and enforcement measures.


• The Convention applies to all sectors of economic activity, whether or not the children are employed for wages.

• Certain sectors may initially be excluded from application of the Convention by developing countries.

• Limited categories of work can be excluded for special and substantial problems of application.

• Exclusions and exceptions are provided for education and training and artistic performances.

Basic minimum age

• The Convention establishes that the minimum age should not be less than the age of completing compulsory schooling and in no event less than 15 years of age.

• It allows a developing country to specify initially a general minimum age of 14 years instead of 15.

Minimum age for hazardous work

• A higher minimum age of at least 18 must be set for hazardous work - "employment or work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to jeopardize the health, safety or morals of young persons."

• A lower age of 16 is allowed where the health, safety and morals of young persons are fully protected and where they have received adequate specific instruction or vocational training in the relevant branch of activity. Both conditions must be fulfilled to allow such a lower age, along with a requirement that the organizations of employers and workers be consulted beforehand.

Minimum age for light work

• The Convention allows a lower age for light work from 13 to 15 years of age, provided that the work is not hazardous to the child's health or development, and does not hinder the child's education.

• A minimum age for light work at 12 instead of 13 can be set in countries where the basic minimum age of 14 is allowed, after consultation with the employers' and workers' organizations.


The Convention calls for:

• all necessary measures to ensure effective enforcement;
• appropriate penalties;
• definition of persons responsible for compliance; and
• record keeping.

The table below gives a summary of the minimum age provisions of Convention No. 138.

General minimum age (Article 2)

Light work (Article 7)

Hazardous work (Article 3)

In normal circumstances:

15 years or more
(not less than compulsory school age)

13 years

18 years
(16 years conditionally)

Where economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed:

14 years

12 years

18 years
(16 years conditionally)

If a country has not ratified Convention No. 138, check which other ILO child labour or related Conventions might be ratified, including the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), and the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81).

A recent important development is the adoption by the International Labour Conference, in June 1998, of the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up. The adoption of the Declaration is expected to contribute significantly to the fight against child labour in all member States, even if they have not ratified child labour Conventions.

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