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Do Most Countries in the World Have Child Labor Laws?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 03, 2024
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Child labor laws are intended to protect children from exploitation in a wide range of industries. Most nations around the world do have laws regarding child labor, although these laws may not always be strictly enforced. This illustrates a serious problem with trying to reform long-established practices; banning child labor does not, unfortunately, cause it to disappear. In order to fight child labor, nations must take an active role in enforcing their child labor laws, and in addressing the larger issues which lead to child labor.

As a general rule, most countries consider a “child” to be anyone under the age of 18. In most cases, someone between the age of 15 and 18 can engage in “non-hazardous” labor, and some countries have restrictions on the number of hours that these laborers work, to ensure that their work does not interfere with their education. Some countries also have an additional category, between 13 and 15, for “light labor.” These ages are in line with an international standard promoted by the International Labor Organization, and no countries are entirely without child labor laws. However, despite clear laws on the books, child labor is a major problem in many regions throughout the world, especially in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

While most people think of children laboring in sweat shops when they think about child labor, children are also pressed into service in the sex trade, military, agricultural industry, and as domestic servants. Many child laborers work exclusively in domestic industry, making international boycotts or sanctions rather pointless. Child labor laws in theory protect children in all of these industries, but they may be indifferently enforced, if at all. Inspectors who do visit sites with child laborers are often give rote answers by the children, who are trained to respond with answers which will conceal their age and labor status.

In an attempt to combat the issue of child labor and generally minimal rights for children, the United Nations introduced the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. Almost all of the member nations of the organization signed the convention, except for the United States and Somalia. Signatories of the convention must agree to fight the exploitation of children, submitting to regular review by a committee and promoting a healthier and safer world for children to live in. Since many of these countries allow severe violations of their own laws on child labor, the effectiveness of this convention is debatable.

In industrialized nations, child labor laws are very restrictive, and they are heavily enforced. In developing nations, however, these laws tend to allow more leeway, and they are still almost impossible to enforce. Cultural values may promote child labor as acceptable, for example, or children may work under their parents so that they cannot be identified as child laborers. Since poverty is a major factor in child labor, critics of child labor laws have pointed out that they may, tragically, force children into more dangerous industries, and that poverty needs to be eliminated so that children do not feel obligated to work.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By ShadowGenius — On Jan 30, 2011


I think that the main issue is not basing these laws on "religion," but on the original moral code of free law from which they really came. Great founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were not christians at all, but they followed these ancient liberal values of liberty and freedom of choice. Restricting children from doing what they want can be harmful, because it goes against these ethics.

By TrogJoe19 — On Jan 28, 2011

I always wondered where laws protecting children in these ways came from. It seems that they came out of a strong sense of rights and a religious entitlement to a good life. Children are also required to be protected by their parents and restricted from things which they might desire to do, but which would be harmful to them. Unfortunately, it seems that in many cases, these helpful restrictions are being eliminated.

By cafe41 — On Jan 26, 2011

The United States child labor laws offer the strictest laws in the world. According to the Fair Labor Act, children age fourteen and fifteen years old can only work three hours a day during the week and eight hours a day when there is no school.

They are allowed to work up to eighteen hours a week and can work up to forty hours a week in the summer when school is out.

However, they cannot work past 9pm or in construction or mining industries because they are considered dangerous.

Also the child labor laws require the minimum wage to be $7.25 per hour.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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