"Child labor" is, generally speaking, work for children that harms them or exploits them in some way (physically, mentally, morally, or by blocking access to education).
BUT: There is no universally accepted definition of "child labor". Varying definitions of the term are used by international organizations, non-governmental organizations, trade unions and other interest groups. Writers and speakers don’t always specify what definition they are using, and that often leads to confusion.
Not all work is bad for children. Some social scientists point out that some kinds of work may be completely unobjectionable — except for one thing about the work that makes it exploitative. For instance, a child who delivers newspapers before school might actually benefit from learning how to work, gaining responsibility, and a bit of money. But what if the child is not paid? Then he or she is being exploited. As Unicef’s 1997 State of the World’s Children Report puts it, "Children’s work needs to be seen as happening along a continuum, with destructive or exploitative work at one end and beneficial work - promoting or enhancing children’s development without interfering with their schooling, recreation and rest - at the other. And between these two poles are vast areas of work that need not negatively affect a child’s development." Other social scientists have slightly different ways of drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable work.
International conventions also define "child labor" as activities such as soldiering and prostitution. Not everyone agrees with this definition. Some child workers themselves think that illegal work (such as prostitution) should not be considered in the definition of "child labor." The reason: These child workers would like to be respected for their legal work, because they feel they have no other choice but to work. .
To avoid confusion, when writing or speaking about "child labor," it’s best to explain exactly what you mean by child labor — or, if someone else is speaking, ask for a definition. This website uses the first definition cited in this section: "Child labor" is work for children under age 18 that in some way harms or exploits them (physically, mentally, morally, or by blocking children from education).