Ghana: Striving for sustainable agriculture without child labour

Improving social and economic conditions for rural people is one of the keys to tackling child labour. So is reducing the exploitation of girls and boys in agriculture. An FAO study in Ghana looks at the issue.

Child labour in small-scale agriculture poses special challenges [FAO/J. Spaull]

Spraying toxic pesticides, working long hours without attending school, or being forced to exchange sex for money or food. Tens of millions of children working in agriculture worldwide face these and other hazardous or unacceptable conditions.

Agriculture, including fishing, ranks as one of the three most hazardous professions in the world and accounts for 70 percent of child labour worldwide.

In Ghana, half the rural children and about one-fifth of the urban children were found to be economically active in 2001, the last year for which there are national figures. Nearly 60 percent of them were engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing.

Ghana was chosen for the study, Child Labour and Children’s Economic Activities in Agriculture in Ghana, in part because it was possible to analyze the impact of anti-child labour measures taken in Ghana. The government, non-governmental organizations and unions there had already begun implementing policies to reduce the worst forms of labour, and it was expected that other countries would be able to benefit from lessons learned and good practices documented in the study.

The six-month study, conducted in 2008, reviewed literature, legislation and practices related to child labour in Ghana, in collaboration with Humboldt University in Berlin. It focused on the identification of major legislation, institutions, policies and processes affecting the economic activities of children and child labour and included case studies in cocoa production, fishing, and cattle herding.

Lessons learned in Ghana

Research showed that many children were deprived of basic, compulsory schooling. Cattle boys in the districts of Tolon-Kumbungu and North and South Tongu herded cattle from morning to evening without being enrolled in school. There were reports of child trafficking in cattle herding and fishing, and evidence of hazardous working conditions in all sectors.

In cocoa production, surveys in Ghana showed that children’s economic activities ranged from light, acceptable work to what could be considered hazardous activity, but also that the line between acceptable work and child labour was not always clear-cut.

In June 2008, the Ministry of Manpower, Youth and Employment released a Hazardous Child Labour Activity Framework for the cocoa sector to clarify the definition of acceptable work and child labour, as defined in ILO conventions, and assist stakeholders in distinguishing the two.

The Ministry catalogued specific activities considered hazardous for children, including working in isolation on a farm, using machetes, felling trees and using pesticides. In addition, the number of working hours and education opportunities were taken into account. The latter was especially relevant for girls, who worldwide are less likely to meet compulsory schooling requirements due to the double-burden of household responsibilities and economic activities outside of the home.

“Working on the farm or on the fishing boat or herding cattle can, if it doesn’t get in the way of school and occurs under safe circumstances, be very valuable. It’s a means of acquiring skills, giving kids a sense of belonging and cultural identity,” said Bernd Seiffert, FAO Rural Livelihoods and Local Institutions Officer.

Seeking change in small-scale work environments

One of the key issues reflected in the Ghanaian study was the challenge of addressing child labour in small scale agricultural environments and in particular, fishing communities.

“Child labour in fishing mostly takes place in the small scale fishing environments and not on the large-scale vessels. Often these fishing communities have high levels of poverty and there are very few perceived options for alternative income strategies,” said Seiffert.

 “One of the approaches that works is offering incentives like cash, in-kind transfers, or access to credit that is linked to school attendance. This has to go along with close monitoring of school attendance, very clear technical support, mentoring, psychological support in some cases, of the children and their parents or guardians. Also, providing school feeding has proven to be a very effective way of keeping children in school,” Seiffert added.

“Another issue is to closely examine the quality and relevance of local education and to promote education and learning that is relevant for children’s future livelihoods. This is where FAO’s Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools (JFFLS) can be very helpful,” said Seiffert.

The JFFLS approach, present in several member countries, uses trained extension workers, teachers and social animators, and a participatory methodology, to pass on agricultural knowledge and life skills to boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 17.

Main recommendations

In addition to highlighting practices in Ghana that help to reduce child labour, the study recommended FAO, ILO and other partners step up technical support for Ghana’s efforts to integrate child labour concerns into its national fisheries policy, as well as its agricultural and fisheries extension services. It also called on support to the government in incorporating information or questions on working children into Ghana’s national surveys.

Globally, it was recommended that FAO mirror these priorities by working with partners to mainstream child labour issues into the work of its different departments at headquarters and in decentralized offices, and boost the availability of information, educational materials, and training.

It was recommended that FAO support governments’ efforts to establish databases on children’s economic activities in agriculture, linking these efforts to those of existing initiatives, such as Understanding Children’s Work, an inter-agency research project by the ILO, UNICEF and the World Bank.

Because of its mandate and its close working relationships with national ministries and departments of agriculture, FAO was seen as a potential centre - together with the ILO - for information and knowledge on child labour in agriculture and fishing, and a necessary actor in efforts to reduce child labour while promoting rural development.