Child Labour in Agriculture

Worldwide, agriculture is the sector where by far the largest share of child labourers is found – nearly 60 percent. Over 129 million girls and boys aged 5 to 17 years old work in crop and livestock production, helping supply some of the food and drink we consume and the fibres and raw materials we use to make other products. This figure includes child labourers in fisheries and forestry. Almost 70 percent of child labourers are unpaid family workers (Global Report 2010). Agriculture is one of the three most dangerous sectors in terms of work-related fatalities, non-fatal accidents and occupational diseases. About 59 percent (or 70 million) of all children in hazardous work aged 5–17 are in agriculture.

Child labour is defined by the ILO Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age, 1973, and the ILO Convention No. 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999, as work that harms children’s well-being and hinders their education, development and future livelihoods (for more information: International Labour Standards on child labour in agriculture – webpage under construction).

When children are forced to work long hours, their ability to attend school or vocational training is limited, preventing them from gaining education that could help lift them out of poverty. Girls are particularly disadvantaged as they often undertake household chores following work in the fields. Much of agricultural work can be hazardous, especially when health and safety standards are low, and can cause sickness, injury or even death. Children are particularly at risk as their bodies and minds are still developing, and they are more vulnerable to hazards such as pesticides. The negative health consequences of their work can last into adulthood.

Especially in the context of family farming and other rural family endeavours, it is important to recognize that some participation of children in productive non-hazardous activities can be positive, as it contributes to the inter-generational transfer of skills and to children’s food security. Age-appropriate tasks that do not present risks and do not interfere with a child’s schooling and right to leisure can be a normal part of growing up in a rural environment. Indeed, many types of contributions to the household’s livelihoods can provide children with practical and social skills for their future. However, for more than 129 million girls and boys, their work in agriculture goes beyond these limits and becomes child labour to be eliminated. The prevalence of child labour in agriculture undermines decent work, sustainable agriculture and food security.

Low family incomes, the absence of schools, the lack of regulations and enforcement, and ingrained attitudes and perceptions about the roles of children in rural areas are some of the factors which make child labour in agriculture particularly difficult to tackle. Unless a concerted effort is made to address its root causes such as poverty and food insecurity, it will be impossible to achieve the goal of eliminating all worst forms of child labour by 2016 as per the ILO’s Global Action Plan on the Elimination of Child Labour. The International partnership for cooperation on child labour in agriculture brings together stakeholders from labour and agriculture organizations to find solutions to child labour in agriculture.

The Hague Global Child Labour Conference

The Hague Global Child Labour Conference 2010 (10-11 May) reenergized the worldwide movement against child labour, mainstreamed child labour into the education, development and human rights frameworks and evaluated progress made since the adoption of ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999). Participants (over 500 representatives from 97 countries) adopted by acclamation the Roadmap for Achieving the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour by 2016.

During the conference, a Workshop on “Political will: Action against child labour in agriculture” offered recommendations on a wide range of measures – sustainable development policies and food security, cross-sectoral policies and programme, decent work, and enhanced participation of rural stakeholders, companies and consumers. The International partnership for cooperation on child labour in agriculture issued a joint Statement to the participants at the Hague conference to support the inclusion in the Roadmap of a specific commitment and concrete actions on child labour in agriculture, including livestock rearing, fisheries and forestry.

Click to view the Video, ILO 2007

Since 2007, FAO and ILO are increasingly focusing on child labour in agriculture. A number of these activities are developed in close collaboration.

A Study on Child Labour and children’s economic activities in agriculture in Ghana (FAO – Humboldt University Berlin, with collaboration from ILO, 2008) addressed knowledge gaps on child labour issues prevailing in the agricultural sector – specifically in cocoa production, fishing and cattle herding – and provided recommendations for agricultural stakeholders. Some key recommendations are: 1) integrating child labour issues into programmes and activities; 2) increasing the knowledge on incidence and forms of child labour in all agricultural sub-sectors, and on successful policies and interventions; 3) building capacity through training and education material for decision makers, agricultural extension services, farmers, children and youth.

A newsletter on Participatory Approaches and Child Labour in Agriculture (FAO Participation Website Team, 2009) provides information on participatory methods, approaches and tools for combating child labour. The newsletters show examples of communities of practice, participatory disease surveillance, participatory and community-based research and assessments, participatory theatre and communication strategies.

The Workshop on Child Labour in Fisheries and Aquaculture (FAO, in cooperation with the ILO, 2010) was the first initiative to address child labour in the sector. It provided a forum to exchange and discuss knowledge, experiences and good practices related to child labour in fisheries and aquaculture and to agree on a set of recommendations, provide advice and define actions.