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Child Labour in Agriculture

Farmers removing seedlings from a nursery to be transplanted into an operating rice paddy until harvest ©FAO/Sarah Elliott

Child labour is mostly found in agriculture. About 100 million boys and girls are engaged in child labour in farming, livestock, forestry, fishing or aquaculture, often working long hours and facing occupational hazards. Child labour violates children’s rights. By endangering health and education of the young, it also forms an obstacle to sustainable agricultural development and food security. To remedy this, FAO works to address its root causes, such as rural poverty and lack of social protection.

FAO's role in preventing and reducing child labour in agriculture

Child labour is defined as work that is inappropriate for a child’s age, affects children’s education, or is likely to harm their health, safety or morals. It should be emphasized that not all work carried out by children is considered child labour. Some activities may help children acquire important livelihood skills and contribute to their survival and food security. However, much of the work children do in agriculture is not age-appropriate, is likely to be hazardous or interferes with children’s education. For instance, a child under the minimum age for employment who is hired to herd cattle, a child applying pesticides, and a child who works all night on a fishing boat and is too tired to go to school the next day would all be considered child labour.

Child labour perpetuates a cycle of poverty for the children involved, their families and communities. Without education, these boys and girls are likely to remain poor. The prevalence of child labour in agriculture violates the principles of decent work. By perpetuating poverty, it undermines efforts to reach sustainable food security and end hunger.

FAO works with partners to address the root causes of child labour, in particular with ILO, IFAD, IUF and IFPRI/CGIAR through the International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture that was established in 2007.

Actions in support of the prevention of child labour in agriculture:

  • Sharing knowledge and building capacity: The work that children perform in agriculture is often invisible, because available data on the activities that girls and boys are involved in, as well as the risks associated with them, are limited. In response, FAO works to promote a greater knowledge base on child labour across countries and within different agricultural subsectors. It enables the exchange of good practices and develops tools in support of national capacity building and institutional development.

    The Organization also provides support to overcome constraints to agricultural production that create a demand for child labour such as limited uptake of labour-saving technologies. Finally, it promotes the adoption of safer agricultural practices to mitigate occupational hazards. 

  • Delivering support at regional and country-level: Child labour in agriculture is challenging to address, because the agricultural sector tends to be under-regulated in many countries. FAO supports governments to ensure that child labour issues are better integrated into national agriculture development policies and strategies. It also promotes coordinated action and implementation of national and regional commitments. 

  • Promoting global action: FAO engages in major international initiatives, including the World Day Against Child Labour, to raise awareness on priority areas of action to eradicate child labour in agriculture. Across its work areas, FAO is paying increasing attention to child labour issues and ensuring that these are considered in its global mechanisms. For instance, in 2013, a revised International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management was approved at the 38th Session of the FAO Conference to encourage governments and the pesticide industry to adopt measures to reduce children’s vulnerability to exposure.

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