It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

We no longer live in Charles Dickens’ industrial England when child labor was an accepted part of society and its economy. Most countries in the world have adopted international standards prohibiting those below a certain age from either working at all or severely restricting the industries where they may work until they reach the statutory age of employment.

Some types of labor are commonly prohibited even for those above the general working age, if they have not reached yet the age of majority. Activities that are dangerous, harmful to the health, mental or physical, of minors fall into this category.

The International Labor Organization states “Child labour is a violation of fundamental human rights and has been shown to hinder children’s development, potentially leading to lifelong physical or psychological damage. Evidence points to a strong link between household poverty and child labour, and child labour perpetuates poverty across generations by keeping the children of the poor out of school and limiting their prospects for upward social mobility. This lowering of human capital has been linked to slow economic growth and social development. An ILO study has shown that eliminating child labour in transition and developing economies could generate economic benefits nearly seven times greater than the costs, mostly associated with investment in better schooling and social services. The fundamental ILO standards on child labour constitute the two legal pillars for the global fight against child labor.”

International child labor standards set the minimum age for light work at 13 years and general employment at 15. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18, although it can be lowered to 16 under strict conditions.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the youngest age at which a child can work part time is 13, except for children involved in areas like television, theater and modeling, who require a performance license. Children who have reached the minimum school-leaving age can work up to 40 hours per week.

After centuries of exploitation of minors and no legal recourse to address grievances, most countries in the world, through their labor laws, are acknowledging the importance of letting children be children, get educated and remain healthy until they reach an age where the harm of engaging in paid work is lower than the benefits gained by experience.

Here are some countries and their stated minimum ages for employment:

Lowest employment ages internationally

Country Employment age
Sri Lanka

10

Ghana

12

Netherlands Antilles

12

Dominica

12

Jamaica

12

Trinidad and Tobago

12

Burma

13

Lebanon

13

Denmark

13

United Kingdom

13

 

Highest employment ages internationally

Country Employment age
United Arab Emirates

21

Philippines

18

Marshall Islands

18

Taiwan

18

Malaysia

17

Cuba

17

China

16

France

16

Hungary

16

Sweden

16

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