Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 08:56 GMT

2008 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - South Africa

Publisher United States Department of Labor
Author Bureau of International Labor Affairs
Publication Date 10 September 2009
Cite as United States Department of Labor, 2008 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - South Africa, 10 September 2009, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Selected Statistics and Indicators on Child Labor
Population, children, 5-14 years:
Working children, 5-14 years (%):
Working boys, 5-14 years (%):
Working girls, 5-14 years (%):
Working children by sector, 5-14 years (%):
     – Agriculture
     – Manufacturing
     – Services
     – Other
Minimum age for work:15
Compulsory education age:15 (9th grade)
Free public education:No
Gross primary enrollment rate (%), 2005:103.2
Net primary enrollment rate (%), 2005:86.3
School attendance, children 5-14 years (%):
Survival rate to grade 5 (%), 2003:82.4
ILO Convention 138:3/30/2000
ILO Convention 182:6/7/2000
ILO-IPEC participating country:Yes

* Accession

Incidence and Nature of Child Labor

Children in South Africa work in subsistence and commercial farms and family business. Children also work as domestic servants, vendors, car guards, train attendants, shop assistants, and taxi conductors. Children are employed in taverns and liquor stores to clean, stock supplies, prepare food, and serve alcohol. Children are also used to scavenge landfills and dumpsites for recyclable materials. Some children are also engaged in commercial sexual exploitation. Many children in rural areas carry water for their families for excessive hours under physically demanding conditions. Some children are exploited by adults and forced to commit robberies, including armed robbery, and sell drugs.

The extent of trafficking is unknown, but South Africa remains a country of origin and destination for children trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labor. South African girls are reportedly trafficked to Zimbabwe for domestic service. Children are trafficked from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe into South Africa for sexual exploitation. Some girls are reportedly trafficked from Swaziland to South Africa for commercial sexual exploitation and domestic service. Boys are trafficked to South Africa from Mozambique and Zimbabwe for agricultural work. South African girls are also trafficked internally for prostitution and domestic service. South African boys are trafficked internally for farm work and street vending.

Child Labor Laws and Enforcement

The law establishes the minimum age for employment at 15 years. Employers may hire children less than 15 years to work in the performing arts with permission from the South African Department of Labor (SADOL). Children who are under 18 years may not perform work that is harmful to their wellbeing and development. The Minister of Labor is authorized to set additional restrictions on the employment of children 15 years and above. The law provides for the right of every child, defined as a person under 18 years, to be protected from age-inappropriate and exploitive labor practices. The penalty for illegally employing a child under the law is a fine or a maximum jail term of 3 years.

The law prohibits all forms of forced labor and establishes a maximum penalty of 3 years in prison for imposing forced labor on another person. The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons, though traffickers may be prosecuted under various laws related to child and forced labor. Since May 2008, the government began prosecuting new trafficking cases under recently implemented sex offense laws; the court cases are on-going and no trafficking offenders have yet been convicted. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and the placement of a female under 16 years in a brothel for prostitution. The maximum penalty for violating the law is 20 years in prison. The law establishes 18 years as the minimum age for voluntary military service, military training, and conscription, even in times of national emergency.

SADOL is tasked with enforcing child labor laws. The Department tries to employ roughly 1,000 labor inspectors nationwide, who have the responsibility of enforcing labor laws, including those involving child labor. According to USDOS, SADOL sometimes has difficulty gaining spontaneous access to farms to enforce the law. In addition, the Government of South Africa does not give as much attention to labor trafficking as it does to sex trafficking.

Current Government Policies and Programs to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor

The Government of South Africa continues to implement a national action program to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. Specific goals of this program include promoting new laws to combat the worst forms of child labor, increasing the Government's capacity to enforce the law, and raising awareness about child labor. The Government also provides a variety of financial support mechanism to prevent children's entry and to encourage children's withdrawal from the labor market.

The Government participated in a regional project funded by USDOL and implemented by the American Institutes for Research. This 4-year USD 9 million project was designed to improve the quality and access to education for children who are working in, or are at risk of working in, the worst forms of child labor in five countries, including South Africa. Over its lifetime, the project withdrew 2,388 children and prevented 8,739 children in the five countries from engaging in exploitive labor. The Government also participated in another 4-year regional project funded by USDOL and implemented by ILO-IPEC. This USD 5 million project drafted national child labor plans of action and conducted targeted research on the worst forms of child labor in five countries, including South Africa. During its implementation, this project withdrew 939 children and prevented 2,826 children in the five countries from engaging in exploitive labor. The Government is supporting a USD 4.75 million regional project implemented by ILO-IPEC to support the implementation of national child labor plans in three countries, including South Africa. Over 4 years, this project aims to withdraw 2,800 children and prevent 5,600 children in the three countries, including South Africa, from engaging in exploitive labor. The Government also participated in a project implemented by IOM and funded by the Government of Norway and the European Commission to develop training on human trafficking and build government capacity to develop and implement anti-trafficking programs.

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