International Human Rights Standards- Child Labour

UN Conventions

Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 and ratified by Pakistan in 1990, sets out the rights of children and the obligations of States to protect and promote those rights. Article 32 of CRC states that “States Parties recognise the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” Article 32 of CRC also calls upon States to take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect children from economic exploitation and to promote their physical and mental well-being.

Pakistan has also ratified two optional protocols of the CRC, including the Optional Protocol on Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), 1966

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) is a major international human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations in 1966. Pakistan signed the CCPR in 2008 and later ratified it in 2010. Article 8 of the CCPR explicitly prohibits slavery, practises similar to slavery-like practices, enforced servitude and forced labour in all situations, aiming to protect individuals from these exploitative practices.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), 1966

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) is another international treaty that Pakistan signed in 2004 and later ratified it in 2008. Under Article 10 of the CESCR, it recognises the right of children and young people to protection from economic and social exploitation. It specifically mentions that children must not be subjected to any form of economic exploitation and must be protected from performing work that could be hazardous or interfere with their education.

Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984

Pakistan ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) on 23 June 2010. The CAT aims to prevent and prohibit torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Although the CAT itself does not specifically address child labour, but in some cases, child labour can involve cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of children, which would fall within the scope of the CAT. Child labour can expose children to dangerous and exploitative working conditions that cause physical and mental harm, potentially violating the CAT prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

ILO Conventions

As a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Pakistan has ratified several conventions aimed at addressing child labour, demonstrating its commitment to upholding these standards.

ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)

The ILO Minimum Age Convention, No. 138, adopted in 1973, establishes the minimum age for employment and work. Pakistan ratified this Convention on 6 July 2006. The Convention requires member States to set a minimum age for admission to employment or work that is not less than the age at which compulsory education is completed and in any case not less than 15 years. However, an exception is provided to allow developing countries such as Pakistan to initially set a minimum age of 14 for light work as part of their development plans.

Minimum Age Recommendation, 1973 (No. 146)

This is a non-binding recommendation that complements Convention No. 138. It calls on member states to take measures to effectively implement the provisions of the Convention. The Recommendation encourages countries to devise a national policy and plan of action to eliminate child labour, improve labour inspection, focus on education and training, and protect young people from employment in hazardous occupations. It also stresses the importance of supportive measures such as poverty reduction, job creation, social security and welfare measures.

ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)

ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182, adopted by the ILO in 1999, aims to combat the worst forms of child labour. This includes all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, forced labour, the use of children in armed conflict, child trafficking and any work that may harm the health, safety or morals of children. Pakistan ratified this convention on 11 October 2001. The Convention call upon member states to take immediate and effective measures to prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child labour, including identifying and removing children from such work and providing appropriate rehabilitation and social services, and address the root causes such as poverty, lack of access to education and social exclusion.

Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)

Pakistan ratified ILO Convention No. 29 in 1957, which requires ratifying States to combat all forms of forced or compulsory labour. Countries must also ensure that forced labour is criminalised and that penalties are genuinely proportionate and strictly enforced.

Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105)

Pakistan ratified ILO Convention No. 105 in 1960, which explicitly prohibits five types of forced labour imposed by state authorities: forced labour as a punishment for the expression of political views, for the purposes of economic development, for participation in strikes, as a means of racial or other discrimination, or as a form of labour-related discipline.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 global goals set by the United Nations in 2015 to achieve sustainable development by 2030. The SDGs cover a wide range of social, economic, and environmental issues. Goal 8 focuses specifically on promoting sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. Within this goal, target 8.7 specifically addresses forced labour and modern slavery, stating:

“Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking, and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labor in all its forms.”

This target recognises the importance of eliminating forced labour and child labour, which constitute serious human rights violations and impede sustainable development. The target also recognises that immediate action is needed to address these issues and calls on governments, employers, workers and other stakeholders to work together to eliminate forced labour, modern slavery and child labour in all its forms.

Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is about promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Target 16.2 specifically aims to “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.” This target recognises that children are particularly vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, trafficking and violence, and that these are important human rights violations that must be addressed in order to achieve sustainable development.

Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+)

The Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) is the European Union’s strategy to promote sustainable development in developing countries by making it easier for developing countries to export their products to the European Union. It can be defined as an instrument to promote trade, sustainable development and the protection of labour rights. GSP+ status grants countries duty-free access to various goods to European Union countries. The European Union (EU) granted GSP+ status to Pakistan in January 2014. In September 2021, Pakistan’s GSP+ status was extended by the European Union for two years with six new conventions introduced including child labour, and in October 2023 EU  further extended GSP + for another 4 years for Pakistan until 2027.


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