Your child and work: what does the law say?

What is child labour and what does the law say about it?

Shot a mother and her daughter sitting on the sofa together indoors

When we think of child labour, we instinctively think of sweatshops, human trafficking and other horrific situations that are a reality in the world we live in. But, did you know that child singers, advertising models and even those who beg on the streets might be participating in some form of child labour? Angelique Ruzicka explores. 

Child labour defined 

Data produced by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) in March 2017 says of the 11.2 million children in our country aged between 7 and 17, 577 000 were involved in child labour in 2015. Child labour is defined as work undertaken by children under 18 years that is exploitative, hazardous, not age-appropriate and detrimental to their development. Stats SA says 34.2% of working children were exposed to at least one hazardous working condition. Additionally, boys (35.5%) were more likely to be exposed to hazardous conditions compared to girls (32.9%). Sadly, children are still being exploited. In September 2017 Nomdundo Douw-Jack, head of the labour department in the Free State, relayed her shock by “outrageous and despicable conduct” displayed by a farmer that exploited children and treated them inhumanely in the Lejweleputswa District. But, child labour is not just a local problem. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says some of the worst forms reported globally include slavery, child trafficking, debt bondage, serfdom and forced labour. These are described as when a child is ‘owned’ and made to work without a say, the illegal trading for labour and sexual exploitation, working in exchange of paying off loans, forced to work on agricultural land often with little pay as well as working against their will.

What about begging?
According to research, poverty and/or addiction to drugs and alcohol are the main reasons families resort to drastic measures. Organised begging has become a huge problem in South Africa. This is when street children or those living in poverty are used for begging for money on street corners. This money often lands in the hands of the person ‘in charge’. According to the ILO, children are sometimes intentionally disfigured to attract more money, and beaten if they don’t come back with it. In some cases, however, if parents who beg don’t have anyone to look after their children, they take them with to the streets. “The toddlers at the street crossings are doing child labour. Our society needs to develop a safety net to rescue and allow them a childhood. We need to outlaw this form of begging,” says Vossie Goosen, a clinical psychologist based in Johannesburg. The government has tried to tackle child labour practices by initiating programmes such as the Child Labour Programme of Action (CLPA). But, in spite of various initiatives and strengthening the laws, it still remains a problem.

Permits and working hours
The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) makes it a criminal offence to employ a child under the age of 15. Contravening the Act and employing underage workers could result in jail sentences and the shutdown of businesses if the perpetrators are found guilty. This is according to Michael Bagraim, shadow deputy minister of labour for the Democratic Alliance. Children aged between 15 and 18 may not be employed to do work inappropriate for their age. For instance, if hired as waiters in a restaurant, they may not serve alcohol. However, it is legal to hire children in the arts. Many companies hire them as models and actors to perform in adverts, movies and on the theatre stage. Michael points out that the hoops potential employers have to jump through to get permission from government are so onerous that many don’t bother going the legal route. “It’s very complicated, and encourages people not to apply in the first place. But, this is sad as, on the other end, you have children working in sweatshops with no health and safety compliance,” he explains. If you want to get your child into modelling or acting, the onus won’t be on you to get permission from the Department of Labour (DoL). Sian Shuttleworth, head booker at Topco Models Kids Division, says the production company has to get child permits from the DoL days before the shoot. “Provided there are permits in place, hours are followed, a child wrangler is on set as well as written permission from parents to allow children to partake in film work, then we proceed,” she says. Additionally, make sure that the companies involved in the advert or photoshoot have the necessary permits in place, and give written consent for your child. Flouting the hours of work or not having permits could amount to child abuse. So, make sure that your children aren’t forced to work long hours. But, keep in mind that the working hours in the arts vary. Sian says for a catalogue shoot, children generally work for four hours while a full day can range from six to eight, including rest periods and a lunchbreak.

Home chores
Allowing your child to do age-appropriate chores around the house is not illegal. These include putting clothes in the washing machine, washing the dishes and making their bed. In fact, this can be beneficial, even for those living with a disability. Sue van der Linde, founder of Iris House Children’s Hospice, relays the importance of learning life skills. “Things such as making their own bed or making sandwiches teach them more independence. It gives them some power of choice and a feeling of participation in the community.” Vossie adds that incorporating chores into their lives teaches them responsibility while giving a taste of the real working world. Experts say this also teaches them to become more empathetic and compassionate. “Having things always done for us is not helpful, including doing your child’s homework,” cautions Vossie. If children are physically and verbally abused or made to do work that is not within their physical or mental capabilities, then it could be classified as child labour. “Chores are supposed to be instructive; it is important that children don’t do them in a punitive way,” Vossie he/she adds.

Report abuse
If you believe that a child is being abused, report the matter to a designated child protection organisation, the provincial Department of Social Development or a police official. Here are ways to report the matter:

Childline South Africa
Tel: 0800 055 555

Department of Social Development
Search for your local department’s contact details at
Tel: +27 12 312 7500 (general enquiries)


South African Police Service
SAPS Emergency Services: 10111
Domestic violence Helpline: 0800 150 150