It will not be possible to achieve overall child labour elimination without addressing child labour among older children

child2The latest International Labour Organization (ILO) document, “World Report on Child Labour: Paving the way for decent young people 2015”, has estimated that in India 20.5 per cent of working adolescents (aged 15 to 17) are employed in hazardous work. This makes up 62.8 per cent of all child workers in India, which is one of the highest in the world. Excerpts from the chapter “Adolescents in hazardous jobs”:  

Hazardous work among adolescents who are above the general minimum working age but not yet adults (i.e. those in the 15–17 years age group) constitutes a worst form of child labour and a violation of international labour standards. The ILO Convention No 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999) calls on countries to take immediate and effective measures to eliminate this and other worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency.

It is in the 15–17 years age group that the goals eliminating child labour and addressing the youth decent work deficit intersect most explicitly. In simple terms, it will not be possible to achieve overall child labour elimination without addressing child labour among older children. Similarly, adolescents aged 15 to 17 years trapped in hazardous work stand as a major obstacle to achieving decent work for all youth. Yet, while adolescents aged 15 to 17 years are clearly of common interest to both child labour and youth employment, this overlapping group is rarely accorded priority attention in efforts in either of these fields. This section contributes to filling the knowledge gap on hazardous work among adolescents in the 15–17 years age group.

The latest ILO global estimates for the year 2012 indicate that both the share and absolute numbers of adolescents aged 15 to 17 years in hazardous work is considerable:

  • adolescents aged 15 to17 years in hazardous work total 47.5 million;
  • adolescents aged 15 to 17 years in hazardous work account for 40 per cent of all those employed in the 15–17 years age group, a clear indicator of the decent work deficit facing this age group; and
  • adolescents aged 15 to 17 years in hazardous work account for over one-quarter (28 per cent) of the overall group of children in child labour.

These stark numbers underscore the importance of distinguishing between decent work and forms of work constituting child labour in programmes promoting youth employment. Accounting for hazardous work in youth employment programmes is critical, as 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. The policy implications are equally clear: national policies should be directed towards removing youth from hazardous jobs or towards removing the hazardous conditions encountered by youth in the workplace. Alongside these efforts, removed youth and other educationally-disadvantaged youth should be afforded second chance learning opportunities to improve their future prospects of securing jobs meeting basic decent work criteria.

What is hazardous work by children?

childThe concept of hazardous work derives from three principal international conventions – the ILO Convention No. 138 on the Minimum Age (1973), the ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – and refers to work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm or jeopardize the health, safety or morals of children. The use of the term “likely” in the conventions means that it is not necessary to prove through research or other means that the work will definitely result in illness or injury or some other negative consequence but, instead, that there is a substantial threat of such an occurrence.

It is helpful to think of hazardous work of children in terms of two distinct age groups: the younger children who are under the minimum age for work and should be in school, and the older children who are of legal working age. Generally speaking, if the very young are in hazardous work, they are the priority for action. If what they do is likely to put their health or development at risk, the only option in the case of younger children is to remove them from the work, while for older children, the focus of the current section, there is a choice: either they may be removed from the hazardous situation, or the risks may be reduced through improvement in working conditions such that the work is no longer likely to put their health at risk.

In instances in which adolescents in the 15–17 years age group are working in sectors or occupations that are designated as hazardous or where there is no scope for improving working conditions, the legal requirement is that they must be removed from the hazardous job. Risk mitigation is a strategic option in instances where youth are exposed to hazards in sectors or occupations that are not designated as hazardous in national hazardous work lists and where scope for changing work conditions exists. A crucial fact to remember is that work in the presence of hazards is not necessarily hazardous work.

Estimating hazardous work

It is important to reiterate that the ILO Conventions No. 138 and No. 182 state that the specific types of employment or work constituting hazardous work are determined by national laws or regulations or by the competent authority. From a strictly legal standpoint, in other words, there is no standard international list of hazardous jobs and occupations, but rather a series of unique national lists. What constitutes hazardous work in legal terms differs from one country to the next. Following from this, there can be no standard statistical measure of hazardous work that is valid across all countries.

The ILO estimation methodology can be summarized as follows. First, among employed adolescents aged 15 to 17 years, all those engaged in designated hazardous industries are identified. Second, among the children engaged in other branches of economic activity, those employed in designated hazardous occupations are identified. Third, among the children not engaged in either hazardous industries or hazardous occupations, those who worked long hours during the reference week are then sorted out. Long are defined for the present purpose as 43 or more hours of work during the reference week. The 43-hour threshold corresponds to about the mid-point of normal hours of work stipulated in national legislations, mostly in the range of 40 to 44 hours. The final step involves separating among the children not engaged in hazardous industries or occupations, nor in long hours of work, those who were exposed nevertheless to some hazardous work conditions not captured by the designated hazardous industries or occupations, or by long hours of work.

These hazardous work conditions include night work, exposure to physical, psychological or sexual abuse; work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces; work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads; and work in an unhealthy environment which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging their health (ILO Recommendation No. 190, paragraph 3 and Resolution concerning child labour statistics, paragraph 24).

The global picture

child1The latest ILO global estimates for the year 2012 suggest that both the share and absolute numbers of adolescents aged 15 to 17 years in hazardous work remains considerable. Out of a total of 47.5 million adolescents aged 15 to 17 years, 13 per cent were in hazardous work in 2012. Boys’ involvement in hazardous work substantially exceeds that of girls’ with 38.7 million 15 to 17 year-old boys in hazardous work in 2012 compared to only 8.8 million of their female peers. While the ultimate policy goal should be decent work, these figures make it clear that a critical first priority in achieving this goal needs to be the removal of adolescents from hazardous forms of employment.

The ILO global estimates also show a general decline in the incidence of hazardous work, although this decline has been much slower among adolescents aged 15 to 17 years than among those aged 5 to 14 years. While hazardous work incidence among children aged 5 to 14 years fell by two-thirds over the 2000 to 2012 period, from 9.3 per cent to 3.1 per cent, the decline among adolescents aged 15 to 17 years was much less dramatic, going from 17.8 per cent in 2000 to 13 per cent in 2012. Moreover, hidden in this overall decline was an increase in the incidence of hazardous work in the 15–17 years age group in the period from 2004 to 2008, underscoring that progress can be tenuous. While we appear to be moving in the right direction, therefore, in terms of reducing hazardous work among adolescents, we are still moving too slowly to achieve the elimination of hazardous work in this age group in the foreseeable future.

The country picture

Country-specific numbers and shares of adolescents in hazardous work are limited by data availability and is therefore unfortunately far from complete, underscoring the general need to improve statistics on hazardous work. The estimates indicate that there are substantial shares of young persons in hazardous work in most countries where data are available, although there is large variation across countries and regions.83 e incidence of hazardous work among adolescents aged 15 to 17 years is highest in Nicaragua (34 per cent), Cambodia (30 per cent) Honduras (27 per cent) and Lao PDR (26 per cent). The number of adolescents in hazardous work is greatest in populous India (2.4 million), Pakistan (1.3 million) and Indonesia (1.2 million).

There is substantial variation in terms of the involvement in hazardous work between rural and urban areas in many countries. The countries which have the largest rural/ urban differences, e.g. Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Brazil, Ecuador, Cambodia, Viet Nam and Lao PDR, where agriculture predominates in the rural areas, consistently have the highest hazardous rates. This highlights the importance of area- and sector- specific targeting of interventions which address hazardous work among adolescents. Gender factors also appear important in determining involvement in hazardous work, as discussed further below.

It is worth noting that while we lack data on the incidence of hazardous employment among adolescents in industrialized economies, European data on adolescents job accident rates, indicate that hazardous work among adolescents is by no means limited to the developing world.

Many employed adolescents in industrialized economies are also affected by hazardous work conditions. European data show that young workers have higher accident rates than adults, although the average severity of accidents concerning young workers is lower. This pattern is not, however, constant across sectors. In the industry sector in 2011, the incidence rate in the 27 EU countries of non-fatal accidents at work stood at 1,518 (per 100,000 persons in employment) for those aged less than 18 years and at 1,251 (per 100,000 persons in employment) for workers generally. By contrast in the agriculture sector, the incidence rate was slightly lower for young workers (1,251 versus 1,518 per 100,000 persons in employment).

There are also large differences across countries in the risk of accidents faced by young workers relative to all workers. In the industry sector, the incidence of accidents of adolescents relative to all workers is highest in Slovakia and Hungary. In the former, for instance, the incidence rate is over 12,000 for young workers against only 311 for workers generally. In the agriculture sector, the incidence rate for younger workers is particularly high relative to all workers in Hungary and Spain. It is worth noting that there has been important progress in the EU in terms of reducing accidents in the workplace, particularly for younger workers. The number of non-fatal accidents (with more than three days’ absence) has been decreasing since the early 2000s, as a result of the growing culture of safety at the workplace in member countries. Of particular importance for the purpose of this section, accidents at work in EU15 countries declined almost as twice as fast for young workers (-65%) as for total workers (-34%) between 2001 and 2010. The largest decreases in accidents at work for young workers over the 2001-2011 period occurred in the Netherlands (-95%), Spain (-92%), Italy (-88%) and Luxembourg (-86%).

Another way of viewing the issue of hazardous employment is by considering its importance relative to overall employment for the 15–17 years age group: in other words, the share of employed adolescents in this age group that are in hazardous work. We saw earlier that globally those in hazardous work accounted for 40 per cent of those employed in the 15–17 years age group. Country-level estimates also suggest that a very high share of employed adolescents aged 15 to 17 years are in hazardous work. In Moldova, for instance, 90 per cent of employed adolescents are in hazardous work, while in Viet Nam the figure is 84 per cent. At least two-thirds of all jobs held by adolescents aged 15 to 17 years are also hazardous in nature in Bangladesh, Lao PDR, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ecuador, Uruguay and Egypt.

These figures underscore the magnitude of the policy challenge associated with addressing the risks faced by adolescents in the workplace. More broadly, the high incidence of hazardous work is another indication of the size of the “decent work deficit” facing those in the 15–17 years age group: two out of five employed adolescents globally are in hazardous work and undoubtedly many others are in other work that falls short of basic decent work criteria.

Both global- and country-level estimates indicate that adolescents in hazardous work constitute a substantial share of the overall child labour population in many contexts. Adolescents in hazardous work make up 28 per cent of the total child labour population globally, and a considerable fraction of total child labourers in most individual countries, especially outside the Sub-Saharan Africa region. In Egypt and India, for instance, adolescents in hazardous work constitute almost two-thirds of all child labourers. They make up at least half of the child labour population also in Brazil, Honduras, Ecuador, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Uruguay, Viet Nam and Jordan.

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