Preventing hazardous child labour in agriculture
Worldwide 215 million children are engaged in child labour, and of these 115 million are involved in what is considered to be hazardous work. Agriculture is the sector where the largest share of child labourers is found - a staggering 60 percent of boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 17.
Today, much of our food and drink, as well as the raw material we use to make other products, are produced by child labour. Child labour in agriculture is a global phenomenon found in both developed and developing countries. Instead of going to school, children spend long hours harvesting crops, spraying pesticides, fishing and tending to livestock. Girls are particularly disadvantaged - as they often take on household chores after working in the fields.
Child labour is work that harms, abuses or exploits children, and deprives them of an education. It is estimated that 129 million children are child labourers in farming, fisheries, aquaculture, livestock and forestry.
Agriculture is one of the three most hazardous sectors to work in for both children and adults, but children are at a greater risk. They can develop work-related physical and mental health problems because their minds and bodies are still growing, and their lack of awareness of the risks and hazards associated with performing certain tasks often exposes them to diseases, injuries and even death.
Some forms of hazardous work performed by children include: handling dangerous cutting tools, carrying heavy loads for long distances, working long hours in extreme weather conditions, and operating heavy machinery that could cause them serious injuries. Fishing also puts children at a greater risk of drowning and of contracting waterborne diseases.
Focusing global attention
12 June 2011 – As the international community gathered to observe the World Day Against Child Labour, special attention was given to ending the most vicious and exploitive forms of child labour. The theme - Warning! Children in hazardous work - End child labour – reiterated the international community’s commitment to eliminate child labour, particularly its worst forms, by 2016.
"If we want to be effective in reducing child labour in agriculture, we must tackle this problem from many different angles,” says Bernd Seiffert, FAO Focal Point for Child Labour Prevention in Agriculture.
“At the policy level, labour laws that specifically restrict children’s work in the agricultural sector must be adopted, as well as laws that increase school attendance. At the community level, these laws must be monitored and put into effect by law enforcement bodies. Such measures also need to be supported by community-based programmes and projects that help vulnerable families access government services and better livelihood opportunities - so they will no longer need to rely on children's labor,” he added.
To this end, FAO works with governments, civil society and other development partners to identify key areas of concern for children working in agriculture, as well as to advise them on ways to tackle these.
In Malawi, for example, FAO - together with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) - pooled the expertise of various labour and agriculture partners to include the special concerns of children working in agriculture within Malawi’s upcoming Child Labour Policy and the National Action Plan that was endorsed in 2010.
"Our focus in Malawi is to build knowledge on child labour in agriculture and to establish closer links with and among key partners, such as the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Agriculture. During a national planning meeting we held in December, various parties agreed on an extensive activity plan that will help to gather data, raise awareness, and review, apply and monitor existing policies and programmes,” says Seiffert.
“When we identified Malawi as a country for future activities, an important selection criterion was the small-scale fisheries sector around lake Malawi, where child labour has been widely reported. At present, FAO and ILO are also preparing guidance material on ways to tackle child labour in small-scale fisheries and aquaculture - which we hope to implement in Malawi.
Helping young people build skills
Combating child labour is a universal goal, but it is important to recognize that not all work undertaken by children in agriculture can be classified as child labour. For instance, children’s participation in family farm activities that takes place outside school hours and does not expose them to risks can prove a positive experience, providing them with valuable skills and boosting their confidence and self-esteem.
"Reducing child labour and increasing decent youth employment go hand in hand. For instance, handling pesticides is considered hazardous work. Yet if a 15-year-old no longer applies pesticides, then – in some cases - we can turn a situation of child labour into one of positive youth employment,"Seiffert says.
One of FAO strategies for reducing hazardous child labour in agriculture is to promote decent work opportunities for young people in agriculture. This is central to FAO’s Junior Farmer Field and Life schools (JFFLS), which help young people build practical farming skills, as well as develop their own income-generating enterprises. JFFLS are now active in 12 countries and territories: from Malawi, Mozambique and Nepal to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"If children are unable to go to school or benefit from education, they will become the unskilled youth of tomorrow. Similarly, if children undertake dangerous tasks, their growth and development may be seriously hindered. Through its linkages to formal school and its focus on teaching young people about farming, JFFLS can prove successful in reducing children’s vulnerability to all forms of exploitation, including child labour,” Seiffert explains.
"FAO has always implicitly worked towards reducing child labour in agriculture by strengthening families’ incomes, food availability and nutrition so that they have the means to send their children to school rather than work. But we will not achieve our mandate to improve global food security unless we step up efforts to target this issue explicitly."
"Keeping children out of school perpetuates the cycle of poverty and deprives children of a productive and healthy future. For the rural economy to be strong and prosperous, we need an educated labour force that is able to adopt new technologies and adapt to shocks such as climate change or changing food prices," he concluded.
Did you know?
Agriculture is the sector where the largest share of child labourers is found - a stunning 129 million girls and boys aged 5 to 17 years old.
Only one in five children is paid for their work, while the majority are unpaid or family workers.
On average, 92 percent of girls (aged 5-14 years) who are in child labour also perform household chores, compared to 67 percent of boys.
The number of boys aged 15-17 years engaged in hazardous work rose by 10.5 million from 2004 to 2008. In the same period, it decreased for younger boys and girls.
- See how FAO and ILO are working together to address child labour in agriculture.
- Read FAO's new set of guidelines to integrate child labour concerns into the JFFLS curriculum: Child Labour Prevention in Agriculture: Junior Farmer Field and Life School - Facilitator's guide.
- Read the FAO/IFAD/ILO Poilcy Brief Breaking the rural poverty cycle: Getting girls and boys out of work and into school