Safe work for youth

An estimated 73 million children, aged 5-17, are doing work which poses a physical, psychosocial or moral danger to them. Some adolescents' work could be considered legal if there was minimal risk or if they were well-trained and well-protected from the hazards. But how can risks to young people be reduced to acceptable levels? What do employers, parents, policy-makers, and the young people themselves need to know so that they can work safely?

Safe Work for Youth is an ILO initiative to promote the safety of young people under age 18 who are engaged in legal employment. Even though these young people are over the minimum age (usually 14 or 15) they are still considered “child labour” under ILO Conventions Nos. 138 and 182 if the work they do is hazardous. This is because young people are still in a stage of rapid growth and development they are less experienced and more vulnerable to exploitation, and are therefore more likely to be hurt or made ill from their job than are adult workers.

For school-age children – i.e. under the minimum age for work – the response is clear: they need to be taken away from the hazard and out of work as quickly as possible. For older children – i.e. youth over the minimum age – there are two approaches: removing them or removing the risk. But as risks cannot always be totally removed, we usually speak of “risk reduction” or “protection” of young workers.

Young children between 14 and 18 are of common interest to both youth employment and child labour efforts. It is an important age group as it encompasses the transition from school-to-work, or from school-based education to vocational training. It is during these years that the foundation is laid for achieving decent work later in life. Doing hazardous work in adolescence can create huge barriers – educational, physical, psychological, social – that impede a young person from competing successfully for good jobs in the future, and is one of the main ways in which child labour and youth employment are linked.