Children at work

There are two types of typical middle-class South African families: the one in which teenagers can’t wait to start earning their own money, so they can splurge on the fashion accessories and trendy gadgets their parents don’t buy them; and the one in which the parents can’t wait for their teens to get out and find a part-time job, to take the financial load off them a bit.

And then there’s the ghastly South African reality of desperately poor households in which the parents may be chronically ill or disabled or dead, and the teens have no choice but to go out and earn a living to support siblings and, often, other family members too.

It’s particularly this last group that the new Health and Safety of Children at Work Regulations introduced in January are designed to protect, although the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (1997) and its various amendments apply to all employers and workers.

So if you’re fortunate enough to fall into the first of the two typical South African family set-ups, this is what you need to know about the new regulations: if your teen is under 15 years old, and lucky enough to find part-time employment in the advertising, artistic or cultural industries (basically, the performing arts), you’ll need to apply for a permit from the Ministry of Labour to allow him/her to work legally. (An exception to this is if the child is fund-raising for a church or school.)

But that’s not all – if you’re granted the permit, there’s a list of working conditions that have to be met, including factors such as safe recreational areas for children to rest and play, suitable transport and the constant presence of a child minder, parent or legal guardian.

And no child may do any kind of work that requires the wearing of respiratory protection equipment or lifting heavy objects, that’s at a height above five metres from the ground, or is in cold, hot or noisy environments (among other restrictions).

In all other sectors (including farming, domestic service, forestry, and private and retail), it’s illegal to employ a child under 15. This is because the Schools Act of 1996 makes it compulsory for all South African children to attend school until the last school day of the calendar year in which they turn 15, or the end of Grade 9, whichever comes first.

If your teen is between 15 and 18, he/she can’t be employed to do ‘inappropriate work’ or work that places them at any kind of risk, including endangering their physical or emotional wellbeing, social development or education (you can get the details at the Department of Labour’s website,

These regulations, while not addressing the problem of young South African teens who have to work to support a family, are all eminently sensible. They take into account that people under the age of 18 may not have the experience and maturity to, for instance:

  • perceive workplace dangers correctly
  • properly understand safety messages or know how to defuse a potentially violent situation
  • resist peer pressure (and may do more than they should to impress an adult or gain acceptance
  • and that they might not ask important and relevant questions for fear of looking stupid or even losing their job.

As attorney Kobus Rossouw of Cape-based Gustav Cook Attorneys says, ‘The public must view the regulations to the Act in the light of the fact that its aim is the protection of minors. The regulations will force the public to act in the best interest of minor children, and any contravention of the Act is a criminal offence for which you can be fined or sentenced to imprisonment depending on the circumstances.’

Does your teen work? In what industry, and how has the experience been?
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Should the red carpet portion of SONA be scrapped this year?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, it's inappropriate given the state of the country
94% - 1629 votes
No, it's part of the tradition
6% - 112 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.