Main challenges faced by rural youth aged 15–17, including child labour
Special attention should be given in the HLPE 2021 report to the youngest category of youth (15-17) living in rural areas. These youth have reached the minimum age for employment (the general rule is 15 but some developing countries are allowed to set it temporarily at 14) yet are still considered children, therefore, they experience greater vulnerabilities in preparing and accessing for decent work opportunities.
Some of the barriers and challenges they face include:
- Limited access to secondary education: While education, in particular primary education, is compulsory in most countries, it does not always ensure that children in this age bracket are indeed in school for secondary school. Access to education can be further hindered by household poverty, school fees, long distances to school, poor quality of education and perceptions of irrelevance of curriculum to local life styles and needs, cultural norms, etc.
- Limited access to adequate (agricultural) education and skill development courses: courses are often not up-to-date and in line with market demand, and educational facilities can be situated in urban areas;
- Gaps in legal protection: for example, they may not be able to legally sign formal contracts which can push them into informal work or exploitative conditions;
- Exclusion from policy-making processes because these often take place in urban areas, and local leaders in rural areas often only interact with family heads;
- Limited experience and lack of competitiveness, when unemployment is widespread, youth are less competitive in terms of skills and expertise and often experience a skills gap compared with their urban counterparts. They may also experience more difficulties in accessing markets;
- Insufficient capital, which makes starting a business highly risky for youth;
- Minimum age constraints that impede access to land, financial services and business development services;
- Limited access to and participation in producer organizations, cooperatives and trade unions;
- Exclusion from government and employment related programmes where the focus is often on youth 18 and above.
Although the 15-17 age cohort have reached the minimum age for employment, when they are involved in hazardous work, it is considered child labour. Moreover, because the cohort can experience greater barriers to decent employment, especially in rural areas, they are at greater risk of exploitation, including child labour.
According to the Global Statistics on child labour released by Alliance 8.7 in 2016, there are almost 38 million children – 24 million boys and 14 million girls – of this age cohort in child labour. This is reinforced by country-level statistics indicating that the 15-17 cohort in child labour suffer higher levels of work-related illness and injury than other employed children in this age range. They are also more likely than other employed 15-17 year-olds to have dropped out of school prematurely. Most of them work in agriculture and undertake hazardous tasks in crop production, livestock, forestry or fishing because of rural poverty, lack of access to quality education and training, the informality and the seasonality of agriculture and other aggravating factors, such as climate change,. Thus, the 15-17 age cohort require greater protection from occupational hazards and greater support in preparing and accessing decent employment opportunities in rural areas.