Voices of our Nation

What you need to know about child labour

Child labour is the regular employment of Canadian children under the age of fifteen or sixteen. Attitudes toward child labour have changed since the late 18th century when it was generally assumed that children should contribute to the family economy from about age seven. Prior to the 19th century, children were often seen as economic assets to families.  By the beginning of the 20th century, most provinces had enacted labour legislation to restrict the employment of children. The employment of people who have not reached the age of adulthood can cause significant workplace issues. Younger employees do have unique skills that can benefit a workplace.  However, it is important that employees understand the Canadian laws that are associated with hiring younger employees.

In Canada, the provinces have established ages of majority for the purpose of determining when a child has the legal capacity to enter into contracts, is able to purchase restricted products, is free of parental control, and can exercise full civil rights. Child welfare and employment are within provincial jurisdiction in the Canadian Constitution, but most of the young worker legislation is created at the provincial level. The minimum age for working in Ontario is fourteen years for most types of work. However, fourteen through seventeen-year-olds are not to be employed during school hours unless they have been excused from school attendance under provisions of Ontario’s Education Act. The legislation governing minimum age for employment, the number of working hours per day and the time of day that a youth may work varies between the provinces and territories. Some provinces require parental permission for a minor to be employed. The Ministry of Labour enforces and promotes the awareness of employment standards, such as minimum wage, hours of work and public holidays. Explore the Ministry of Labour website to learn more about employee rights and employer obligations in Ontario. The legislation also exists to protect minors from working under dangerous or hazardous conditions.

Child labour consists of the employment of minors in any labour industry, particularly when it is illegal or exploitative. Labour shortage is a significant problem in some countries.  Child labour’s main advantage is that compared with employing an adult child labour is remarkably cheap.  Workplace expenses could be driven down by expanding the child workforce. Child labour potentially can teach children to help provide for their family or could be beneficial in earning and saving funds for educational opportunities such as tuition for college later in a child’s life. Child labour also could allow children to develop a  variety of useful skills from a young age.  Child labour is a prevalent driving force in countries such as China and Vietnam.  It is easy to imagine that a wider scope of goods could are manufactured from such regions using child labour.

Child labour risks are rising around the world.  Young workers are still developing their physical, social and mental skills or judgment.  Young workers may find it more challenging to protect themselves from injury, overwork, or abuses than adult workers.  Verbal abuse or sexual abuse can have a detrimental effect on a child’s mental health.  More than two hundred million children today are child labourers worldwide.  An estimated one hundred twenty million child labourers are engaged in hazardous work.  Several countries now consider underage child labour as an unethical practice and a violation of human rights.  The effects of some forms of child labour are traumatic, and the consequences can include long-term health or psychological problems for the children that are involved.

Child labour is still a significant issue that needs to be effectively addressed.  There are many aspects to active child labour that employers might consider. Employers and employees have an interest in maintaining workplace health and safety standards. Laws can change suddenly and employers have a responsibility to understand how these laws affect their workplaces. Workers have the right to know about any potential or real workplace hazards that they may be exposed to. Workplace employers should not treat their employees as slaves, but rather employers must maintain respect for their rights as employees.  Employers also should respect an employee who exhibits proper conduct toward their employees.  Workplaces can operate more successfully when employees are encouraged to communicate their concerns and to provide input to employers or supervisors that cooperatively assists in resolving workplace issues.

Child Labour: Canada’s Invisible Crisis
Pros and Cons of Child Labour
Statistics Canada
The Canadian Encyclopedia

This article was contributed by volunteer blogger Shan Simpson, and was edited by both volunteer editors Parul Datta and Peter Tretter

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