Physical Differences between Children and Adults May Increase Children’s Work-related Risks

Working conditions that are safe and healthy for adults may not be safe and healthy for children because of their physical differences. Risks may be greater for children at various stages of development and may have long-term effects. Factors that may increase the health, safety, and developmental risk factors for children include:

Match Factory Worker

Match Factory Worker
India, 1993
Photo: David Parker

  • Rapid skeletal growth
  • Development of organs and tissues
  • Greater risk of hearing loss
  • Developing ability to assess risks
  • Greater need for food and rest
  • Higher chemical absorption rates
  • Smaller size
  • Lower heat tolerance

Injuries among Young Workers

One quarter of economically active children suffer injuries or illnesses while working, according to an International Labor Organization survey of 26 countries.

Each year, as many as 2.7 million healthy years of life are lost due to child labor, especially in agriculture.

Many of the industries that employ large numbers of young workers in the United States have higher-than-average injury rates for workers of all ages, such as grocery stores, hospitals, nursing homes, and agriculture.

Why do young workers have more accidents than adults?

Metal Factory Worker

Metal Worker
India, 1995
Photo: David Parker

  • “Unskilled” and labor-intensive jobs may be risky.
  • Training and supervision may be inadequate.
  • Work may be illegal and inappropriate.
  • Lesser experience at work can increase the risk of accidents.

Poverty: An Additional Risk Factor

  • Low-income youth are more likely to work in high-risk occupations such as agriculture, mining, and construction.
  • Poverty-related health problems (e.g., malnutrition, fatigue, anemia) increase the risks and consequences of work-related hazards and may lead to permanent disabilities and premature death.

Psychosocial Effects of Child Labor

  • Long hours of work on a regular basis can harm children’s social and educational development.
  • U.S. adolescents who work more than 20 hours per week have reported more problem behaviors (e.g., aggression, misconduct, substance use), and sleep deprivation and related problems (falling asleep in school). They are more likely to drop out of school and complete fewer months of higher education.
  • The unconditional worst forms of child labor (e.g., slavery, soldiering, prostitution, drug trafficking) may have traumatic effects, including longer term health and socioeconomic effects.

Hazards of Agricultural Child Labor

child laborer

Photo: David Parker

Studies in many countries have shown that children working in agriculture suffer particularly high rates of injury. In the Philippines, for example, a survey found that children in agriculture had five times greater risk of injury compared with children working in other industries. (Castro 2010)

Several conditions cause the relatively high rates of injuries, health problems, and fatalities among agricultural child laborers:

  • Exposure to pesticides
  • Working with machinery and sharp tools
  • Lack of clean water, hand-washing facilities, and toilets
  • Beginning to work at very early ages, often between 5-7 years of age
  • Less restrictive standards for agricultural work

Educational materials containing information on Health Issues regarding Child Labor, including Adult Education—Core Workshop on Child Labor and K-12 Teachers’ Materials, are available through this web site. These materials include Power Point presentations, instructors’ manuals, activities, and handouts. You may adapt these materials to your group’s needs.