Child Labour FAQs

Child Labour in Sri Lanka. ILO convention and other Acts that work towards eradicating Child Labour from Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka, the law defines children as beings below the age of 18 years, and stipulates that all children must attend school until they reach the age of 14 years.

  • Thereafter they are conditionally eligible to enter the labour market. Sri Lanka has signed and ratified ILO Convention 138 on the Minimum Age for Employment and C182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.

However serious issues exist with regard to the gap between 14 years and 18 years, during which many children are either trafficked or enter the hazardous labour sector, the effects of which can be harmful to their health, morals and safety.

  • Hazardous child labour is defined by Article 3 (d) of ILO Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999 (No. 182) as: (d) Work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

What is Child Labour?

Children employed in child labour are considered exploited, because they are invariably:

  • Denied their childhood,
  • Unable to attend school and obtain an education, and;
  • Have no demand driven skills and are thus invariably engaged in work that is exploitative in nature.

According to ILO/IPEC, The term “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.

In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children:

  • Being enslaved, separated from their families,
  • Exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or
  • Left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age.

Whether or not particular forms of “work” can be called “child labour” depends on:

  • The child’s age,
  • The type and hours of work performed,
  • The conditions under which it is performed and
  • The objectives pursued by individual countries.

The answer varies from country to country, as well as among sectors within countries.

Which laws in Sri Lanka, prohibit and or regulate the employment of children?

  • The National Child Protection Act No. 50 of 1998, states in Article 39, that a child means any person under 18 years of age.
  • The Constitution of Sri Lanka (1978) by Article 12 - Rights to equality; under Article 12(4) states no law can be made to prevent the advancement of women, children or disabled persons.
  • The Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children’ Act (EWYPC) is the main law pertaining to work by children.
  • Other laws are: Estate Labour (Indian) Ordinance,
  • Factories Ordinance,
  • Mines and Minerals Law
  • Shop and Office Employees’ Act.

What protection is available under the (EWYPC) No. 8 of 2003 and Amendment Act of 2006?

  • All old references to permitting child labour have been replaced by the provisions contained in the (EWYPC) No. 8 of 2003 and Amendment Act of 2006.
  • Section 13 was repealed and the following substituted in the Amendment Act of 2003:
    • No child shall be employed except under the terms mentioned in the Act.
    • Where a child is employed in contravention of the provisions of subsection, the employer shall be guilty of an offence chargeable in the Magistrate Court.
    • The employer can be fined or imprisoned or both and;
    • The Magistrate could also order the employer to pay compensation to the child in question.
  • Section 14 states that:
    • A child may not be employed except:
      • by his parents or guardian in light agricultural or horticultural work or,
      • similar work carried on by members of the same family
      • before the commencement of regular school hours or after the close of school hours ;
      • in any school or other institution supervised by a public authority and imparting technical education or other training for the purpose of any trade or occupation.
    • Section 20 states that children under the age of eighteen cannot take part in performances which endanger their life or limb.

What is the definition of hazardous work by children?

Hazardous labour for children is defined in ILO C 182 Article 3(d) and R 190 as:

  1. work which exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse;
  2. work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces;
  3. work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads;
  4. 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 to their health;
  5. work under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours or during the night or work where the child is unreasonably confined to the premises of the employer.

What is Sri Lanka’s response to hazardous work by children?

  • The government passed into legislation and the announcement was published by Gazette notification 1667/41 of 2010 and No. 1695/32 dated Friday, March 4, 2010, a list of forty nine trades/ occupations which have been listed as Hazardous Work.
  • In 2006, Section 20 of the EWYPC was amended to address the special issue of hazardous labour by children between the vulnerable age group between 14 to 18 years.

What are the other laws that govern work by children?

  • The Factories Ordinance No. 45 of 1942 imposes terms and conditions of employment (including overtime employment) of any young person between 14 and 18 years of age who may be employed in a factory.
  • The Mines and Minerals Law No. 4 of 1973 prohibits young persons under 16 years from working underground in any mine. Young persons between the ages of 16 and 18 are permitted to work in a mine subject to conditions of fitness and criteria listed in the Hazardous Work schedule issued by the Ministry of Labour.
  • The Shop and Office Employees Act No. 19 of 1954 prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14 years in a shop or office. Male children between the ages of 14 and 18 years cannot be employed before 6 a.m. or after 6 p.m. except in specified types of employment.
  • Wages of children above 14 years in trades legislated under the Minimum Wages Ordinance will be determined by the Wages Boards of the related trades.

What is the punishment given to employers of children?

  • The penalty for employing children in violation of the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act 8 of 2003 varies from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 fines, imprisonment of not less than 12 months or both.


  • Gazette Notification No. 1695/32 dated Friday, March 4, 2010
  • Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children’s Act No. 47 of 1956
  • Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children’s Amendment Act No. 8 of 2003
  • Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children’s Amendment Act 24 of 2006
  • The Factories Ordinance No. 45 of 1942
  • The Shop and Office Employees Act No. 19 of 1954
  • ILO Convention 138 on the Minimum Age for Employment
  • ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour read in conjunction with Recommendation 190