What is child labour?

Briefing note | 08 June 2015
The term “child labour” refers to work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to their physical and/or mental development.

It refers to work that:
• is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children;
• and interferes with their schooling by:
  • depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;
  • obliging them to leave school prematurely; or
  • requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age. Whether or not particular forms of “work” can be called “child labour” depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and the objectives pursued by individual countries. The answer varies from country to country, as well as among sectors within countries.

Nevertheless, not all work done by children should be classified as child labour that is to be targeted for elimination!
In every society, children work in one way or another:
• They help their parents to look after the home or family.
• The teenagers work a few hours before or after school, during holidays.
This type of economic activity is considered as an integral part of the development of the child.