unacceptable. ILO Conventions Nos. 138 and 182 delimit child work and in particular to highlight what forms should be eliminated.

Convention No. 138 was adopted in 1973 and establishes minimum ages for work by children. Members who ratify this Convention are directed to specify a minimum age for admission to employment or work. The Convention text further states that the minimum age specified “shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years.” Furthermore, “The minimum age for admission to any type of 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 shall not be less than 18 years.” The specification of hazardous types of employment or work is determined by national sources. Thus, multiple minimum ages were specified.

Two exceptions identify work which is permissible. First, the “Convention does not apply to work done by children and young persons in schools for general, vocational or technical education or in other training institutions, or to work done by persons at least 14 years of age in undertakings, where such work is carried out in accordance with conditions prescribed by the competent authority, after consultation with the organizations of employers and workers concerned, where such exist, and is an integral part of--(a) a course of education or training for which a school or training institution is primarily responsible; (b) a program of training mainly or entirely in an undertaking, which program has been approved by the competent authority; or (c) a program of guidance or orientation designed to facilitate the choice of an occupation or of a line of training.”

Second, “national laws or regulations may permit the employment or work of persons 13 to 15 years of age on light work which is--(a) not likely to be harmful to their health or development; and (b) not such as to prejudice their attendance at school, their participation in vocational orientation or training programs approved by the competent authority or their capacity to benefit from the instruction received.” Note the lack of definition of what “light work” is, and such key notions as defining when it is harmful to health or development or prejudicial, for instance.5

Convention No. 182 identifies the worst forms of child labor that should be abolished. These are: (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 labor, 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. Clause (d) remains the most ambiguous and is determined within a state’s national context.

Forced labor—particularly adult forced labor—is a very different phenomenon than child labor and requires a different policy response. Children engaged in prohibited activity have ideally to be withdrawn from the labor market and provided acceptable


For a discussion of light work, see: Augendra Bhukuth, “Defining child labour: a controversial debate” Development in Practice, Volume 18, Number 3, June 2008, pp. 385-394.

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