With reference to the ongoing debate as to whether children 13 years of age should be allowed to work, I would not argue for or against but would like to comment on the legal aspect.
Prior to September 20, 1999, the age for compulsory schooling and for admission to employment was 14 years. In 1999, the Education Act, the Factories Act and the Employment of Young Persons and Children Act were amended raising the age for compulsory schooling and for admission to employment from 14 to 15 years.
This was done to comply with International Labour Convention No 138 concerning the minimum age for admission to employment which Guyana ratified on April 15, 1998. The convention stipulates that the minimum age for admission to employment should be 15 years. The convention states also that the minimum age for admission to any type of employment or work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to jeopardize the health, safety or morals of young persons shall not be less than 18 years.
However, the convention further states that employment of persons 13 to 15 years of age on light work may be permitted, that is, work which is –
a) not likely to be harmful to their health or development; and
b) not such as to prejudice their attendance at school, their participation in vocational orientation or training programmes approved by the competent authority or their capacity to benefit from instructions received.
The law must prescribe the number of hours during which, and the conditions in which such employment or work may be undertaken.
Light work, therefore, for 13-15 year olds is not in breach of the convention, but it must be specific and effectively monitored and enforced.