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Protecting girls and boys from child labour: global conference

FAO took part in a global conference on child labour in The Hague, The Netherlands, to put the spotlight on the key role that agriculture must play in eliminating hazardous and exploitative work for girls and boys.

© FAO/K. Pratt

10 May 2010 , Rome – The 10-11 May meeting, Towards a world without child labour – Mapping the road to 2016, occurred 10 years after ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL) came into force, and one month before the annual World Day Against Child Labour.

The WFCL, the most widely-ratified international labour convention, set a global target to rid the world of the worst forms of child labour by 2016. The worst forms of child labour expose children to hazardous environments, slavery and other forms of forced labour, drug trafficking, prostitution, and involvement in armed conflict.

Agriculture, including fisheries, ranks among the top three most hazardous professions. Over 132 million girls and boys aged 5 to 14 years old work in crop and livestock production, fisheries and forestry.

Many children are engaged in forced and hazardous agricultural activities, including working long hours, using sharp tools and dangerous machinery designed for adults, carrying loads too heavy for their immature bodies, and engaging in hazardous techniques such as diving.

Children working in agriculture also risk exposure to toxic pesticides, extreme temperatures, rough sea, dust, smoke, diseases and unsanitary conditions.

The 2010 child labour conference, organized by the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, in collaboration with the ILO, brought together more than 80 countries, along with workers’ and employers’ groups, international organizations, NGOs and the business community.

The conference was designed in part to spur universal ratification of ILO convention 182 and 138, which sets the minimum employment age at 15 years, or at 14 in exceptional cases. It also aimed to deliver the commitment to take immediate and effective measures to end the worst forms of child labour, and to reach agreement on significantly intensified efforts to reach the 2016 goal laid down in the WFCL.

Participants learned about new trends in child labour, discussed strategies to step up elimination of child labour, and shared good practices and lessons learned. 

Five thematic sessions focused discussion on the challenges and opportunities at hand, and enabled participants to learn from each other’s experiences. The sessions and parallel workshops looked at the need to increase political awareness and keep child labour high on national policy agendas; financing needs and effective approaches to financing; integrating child labour issues into policy, and social dialogue and alliances among government and non-governmental organizations. It also included a special discussion on Africa.

 “In its work to eliminate hunger through agriculture and rural development, FAO has seen that improving food security, developing policies and programmes for promoting decent rural employment and relevant education and training opportunities for rural adults, youth and children, is fundamental to tackling child labour,” said Eve Crowley Principal Advisor in FAO's Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division, before taking part in the conference.

“Poor families in rural areas often rely on the earnings or work effort provided by children. But child labour in agriculture deprives many tens of millions of girls and boys from receiving adequate education, health and leisure, and often puts their health and lives at significant risk,” said Crowley.

“FAO works with member countries, the ILO and other partners to improve labour practices in agriculture, which accounts for some 70 percent of child labour worldwide. Part of the process is to sensitize communities, governments and partners about the distinction between acceptable economic activities undertaken by children and child labour, as defined in ILO conventions,” said Bernd Seiffert, FAO Rural Livelihoods and Local Institutions Officer.

“Girls often bear a double-burden of work in the field or at the fishing docks coupled with household-related chores. If economic activities deprive girls and boys of compulsory  schooling, then it is considered child labour,” said Seiffert.

At the meeting in the Hague, Crowley provided a global overview of the prevalence of child labour in agriculture, fisheries and livestock rearing, and discussed some of the options for addressing the issue. She also underscored the importance of partnerships in addressing the complexity and magnitude of the problem.