I thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the discussion on one of the most challenging issues of our time in the context of rural poverty. While the introductory note focuses on policies and programmes for a good reason, rural youth in the age group 15-17, who are active labour force in most rural areas, also face formidable legal protection challenges in terms of accessing decent work and related opportunities and services.
Like rural/agricultural workers more generally, working rural youth face the challenges of labour protection gaps that result from the under-regulation of labour in agriculture and, even where there are laws of general application in place, from weakness in implementation. Labour inspection is, for example, a rarity in rural/remote areas. This is compounded by factual circumstances that result in high chances of youth aged 15-17 being engaged in hazardous labour as a result of their age-related vulnerabilities (e.g., increasing subjection to human trafficking and slavery-like working conditions in fisheries) and physical vulnerabilities (e.g., the unavailability or non-suitability of personal protective equipment in applying pesticides). Many of the challenges have to do with the failure of mainstream labour laws to either cover or be implemented in rural areas and the lack of attention of sectoral legislations to the labour rights of the people who work in the sectors. One possible solution could be to promote the adoption of sector specific legislation on labour and human rights that could be implemented in ways that ensure inter-sectoral/institutional collaborations. A good example is the Indonesian Ministerial Regulation on the protection of human rights in the fisheries business (NOMOR 35/PERMEN-KP/2015).
Legal frameworks governing opportunities and services related to rural employment, such as the possibility of joining rural workers organizations, accessing credit and other financial services and benefiting from workers social protection schemes often require attaining the age of majority, which is often 18 years of age. Policy and legal initiatives that are meant specifically to create work opportunities for and protect the vulnerabilities of youth in the age group 15-17 are not common. What is even more interesting is that even the most celebrated examples of legal measures to address decent work and social protection gaps in rural areas, such as the Indian National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005, target ‘adult members of households who have completed 18 years of age’. Such labour protection blind-spots may not be a result of mere oversight or they may be justified by the magnitude of the problems of rural employment. However, the clear importance of targeting and investing in the youth requires either the reorientation of existing policy and legal measures to include them or the adoption of more targeted ones that take the special circumstances of the age group 15-17 into account.
Finally, it is interesting to see that the introductory notes identify access to land as one of the main challenges of rural youth in agriculture. In some countries such as Sierra Leone, the tension between land-owning elites seeking labour for their farms and impoverished rural youth is believed to have fuelled violent conflicts (Richards, 2005). In this connection, the increasing recognition of community land rights in positively rated land-related legal reforms could pay more attention to how rural youth can access land and hence go out of the cycle of unpaid family labour and migration to urban areas.