Right to work

While children must be protected from work which is harmful to their health and development, they also have a right to work. To this end, child workers should enjoy the same rights as their adult counterparts so as to be able to defend their labour rights, such as being able to join a union, as well as additional protections.

Imposing a blanket ban on all child work without addressing the economic conditions which push children to work in the first place can mean that children will resume working the moment official eyes are averted, and risk becoming part of the illegal economy where abuse and exploitation are routine.

Instead of prohibiting children from working, governments should formalise and regulate their labour activities, establish safeguards to ensure their protection and that the decision to work is the child’s own. Child employment should be safe, adapted to a child’s age, fairly paid, and should not interfere with their other rights, especially their education and development.

Read more on page 15 of our discussion paper Age is Arbitrary: Discussion paper on setting minimum ages.

We recognise that there is no consensus on the minimum age of admission to employment. After much discussion, this section is under review. We don’t believe this area of children’s rights is straightforward. However, we continue to hold concerns about reports from advocates on the ground and child workers themselves that the implementation of ILO Convention 138 on the minimum age of admission to employment is having inadvertent harmful consequences for children’s rights. We therefore feel that a thorough impact assessment of this Convention is needed.

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