The answer is yes, subject to a few restrictions.
Firstly, the question about whether a child can legally enter into a contract concerns the general principles of contract law rather than employment law. In order for a person to enter into any contract, they must have the legal capacity to do so. One of the requirements of legal capacity is that a person must be at least 18 years old.
Very broadly, those under 18 years of age can enter into contracts of employment or apprenticeships provided the contract is considered to be ‘beneficial’ to them.
Even where a person under 18 is able to enter into a contract of employment, there are some legal restrictions imposed by law.
As a starting point, it is not lawful to employ anyone under 14 years of age. However, there are some local authority laws which allow the employment of 13 year old children in certain circumstances. Employers are advised to always check local authority byelaws.
The employment of children who are between 14 and 'minimum school leaving age' (generally around 16 years old) is permissible but subject to restrictions on the type of work, and hours of work etc. These restrictions are to protect and maintain their health and safety.
Slightly less restrictions apply to employing young people between the ages of 16 and 18. These mostly cover enhanced working time rules.
The government has provided useful guidance on this topic which can be found here.
If employers are in any doubt they should seek advice.
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There are several restrictions on when and where children are allowed to work.