ILO Conventions on child labour

The two ILO Conventions on child labour are Convention No.138 on Minimum Age and Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. These Conventions are “fundamental” Conventions. This means that, under the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, all ILO member States have an obligation to respect, promote and realize the abolition of child labour , even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question.

ILO Convention No. 182 is the first ILO Convention to achieve universal ratification. It was also the most rapidly ratified Convention in the history of the ILO, with the majority of ratifications occurring within the first 3 years after it was adopted in 1999. ILO Convention No. 138 has also been widely ratified by ILO member States.

A majority of countries have now adopted legislation to prohibit or place severe restrictions on the employment and work of children, much of it following ratification of the child labour Conventions. In spite of these efforts, child labour continues to exist on a massive scale, sometimes in appalling conditions, particularly in the developing world. This is because child labour is an immensely complex issue. It cannot be made to disappear simply by the stroke of a pen.

Nevertheless, the basis of determined and concerted action must be legislation, which sets the total elimination of child labour as the ultimate goal of policy, and puts measures into place for this purpose, and which explicitly identifies and prohibits the worst forms of child labour to be eliminated as a matter of priority.

ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) and its Recommendation No. 146

  1. One of the most effective methods of ensuring that children do not start working too young is to set the age at which children can legally be employed or otherwise work. The aim of ILO Convention No.138 on the minimum age is the effective abolition of child labour by requiring countries to:
    1) establish a minimum age for entry into work or employment; and
    2) establish national policies for the elimination of child labour.

  2. Recommendation No. 146

    The Recommendation No. 146 which accompanies Convention No. 138, stresses that national policies and plans should provide for: poverty alleviation and the promotion of decent jobs for adults, so that parents do not need to resort to child labour; free and compulsory education and provision of vocational training; extension of social security and systems for birth registration; and appropriate facilities for the protection of children, and adolescents who work. To achieve the elimination of child labour, laws setting minimum ages for work should be embedded in such comprehensive policy responses.

ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) and its Recommendation No. 190

  1. Child labour, as the statistics clearly demonstrate, is a problem of immense global proportions. Following its comprehensive research into the issue, the ILO concluded that it was necessary to strengthen existing Conventions on child labour. Convention No. 182 helped to focus the international spotlight on the urgency of action to eliminate as a priority, the worst forms of child labour without losing the long term goal of the effective elimination of all child labour. Convention No. 182 requires countries to take immediate, effective and time-bound measures to eliminate the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency.

  2. Recommendation No. 190

    The Recommendation No. 190, which accompanies Convention No. 182, recommends that any definition of “hazardous work” should include: work which exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse; work underground, underwater, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces; work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools or carrying heavy loads; exposure to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels or vibrations damaging to health; work for long hours, night work, and unreasonable confinement to the premises of the employer.