Hazardous child labour

What is hazardous child labour or hazardous work?

More specifically, hazardous child labour is work in dangerous or unhealthy conditions that could result in a child being killed, or injured or made ill as a consequence of poor safety and health standards and working arrangements. It can result in permanent disability, ill health and psychological damage. Often health problems caused by being engaged in child labour may not develop or show up until the child is an adult.

Hazardous child labour is the largest category of the worst forms of child labour with an estimated 79 million children, aged 5-17, working in dangerous conditions in a wide range of sectors, including agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, as well as in hotels, bars, restaurants, markets, and domestic service. It is found in both industrialised and developing countries. Girls and boys often start carrying out hazardous work at very early ages.

Because their bodies and minds are still developing, children are more vulnerable than adults to workplace hazards, and the consequences of hazardous work are often more devastating and lasting for them.

When speaking of child labour it is important to go beyond the concepts of work hazard and risk1 as applied to adult workers and to expand them to include the developmental aspects of childhood. Because children are still growing, they have special characteristics and needs, and in determining workplace hazards and risks their effect on children’s physical, cognitive (thought/learning) and behavioural development and emotional growth must be taken into consideration.


1 “Hazard” and “risk” are two terms that are used frequently in association with this type of child labour. A “hazard” is anything with the potential to do harm. A “risk” is the likelihood of potential harm from that hazard being realized. For example, the hazard associated with power-driven machinery might be getting trapped or entangled by moving parts. The risk will be high if guards are not fitted and workers are in close proximity to the machine. If however, the machine is properly guarded, regularly maintained and repaired by competent staff, the risk will be lower.