Constitutional Court of Colombia, 2 March 2004, Decision No. C-170/04

Political Constitution of the Republic of Colombia

Article 53

(...) The international labour Conventions, duly ratified, form part of domestic legislation (…).

Article 93, paragraph 1

The international treaties and conventions ratified by Congress that recognize human rights and prohibit their restriction in states of emergency prevail in domestic order. The rights and duties consecrated in this Charter shall be interpreted in accordance with the international treaties on human rights ratified by Colombia.

Child labour
Role of International Law:
Direct resolution of a dispute on the basis of international law
Type of instruments used:

Ratified treaties1 

Child labour/ Minimum age/ Direct resolution of a dispute on the basis of international law

A public action was brought before the Constitutional Court of Colombia in which the petitioners challenged the constitutionality of article 30 of the Labour Code and article 238 (partial) of Decree-Law 2737 of 1989 (Juvenile Code) because they were in violation of articles 44 and 67 of the Constitution.

The Court confined its decision to the constitutionality of article 238 of the Juvenile Code, which authorizes young persons under the age of 18 years to enter into employment contracts, subject to the fulfilment of certain requirements.

In its ruling, the Court stated that:

“[T]he conditions or limitations for the development of the work activity of these minors are subject to the provisions of ILO Conventions Nos. 138 and 182. In effect, these treaties establish a more comprehensive legal protection than that provided by the ordinary provisions, so that they, forming part of the Constitution in the strict sense, become the minimum standards and obligations that State Parties are subject to, whose conditions and requirements must be adhered to with precedence over the restrictions set out in domestic legislation, in order to validate the rights of children…”2

Thus, the Court concluded that article 238 of the Juvenile Code was partially unconstitutional since it was partially inconsistent with the requirements set forth in ILO Convention Nos. 138 and 182, which “form part of the constitutional bloc in the strictest sense and therefore, not only do they serve as a reference point in determining the constitutional validity of legal provisions but they are also of a binding nature.”3


2 Paragraph 41 of the decision.

3 Paragraph 19 of the decision.

Full text of the decision