Worldwide 215 million children are child labourers, of whom around 130 million boys and girls between 5 and 17 work in agriculture, including livestock, fisheries, and forestry. Many of them are engaged in hazardous work. Only one in five child labourers is paid - most are unpaid family workers, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Pervasive poverty is both a main cause and consequence of child labour in rural areas.
Hazardous work often harms a child's health, safety or morals. A child working in fields where pesticides have been applied, staying up all night on a fishing boat, or carrying loads so heavy that they harm the development of the child's body - all these are far too common examples of hazardous work in agriculture.
"Child labour is a human rights abuse and is an obstacle to sustainable development of agriculture and food security," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.
"Work that harms children's health and development can have long-lasting effects into adulthood, and child labour has been repeatedly shown to have a negative impact on education. Child labour also strongly undermines efforts to promote decent youth employment, a key element in revitalizing agriculture around the world and reducing poverty," he added.
In 2006, governments, workers' and employers' organizations committed to eliminating the worst forms of child labour, including hazardous work, by 2016. In 2010, the international community has adopted the Roadmap for Achieving the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour by 2016, which highlights the predominance of child labour in agriculture.
Addressing small-scale agriculture
According to FAO, action on child labour is often focused on international markets and value-chains for export, such as the cocoa and cotton industry, but the majority of child labourers in agriculture work in small-scale, family based agriculture, including food crop production, fishing, forestry and livestock.
"It is our joint responsibility to support poor rural families so children can go to school instead of working. Every child has the right to education," Graziano da Silva added.
While agriculture remains an under-regulated sector in many countries and the problem of child labour is complex, individual countries are showing promise through strengthened commitment and forward-looking initiatives.
The case of Cambodia
Cambodia, for example, has made concrete commitments in addressing child labour in fisheries and aquaculture. Supported by FAO and ILO, the Fisheries Administration has integrated child labour targets into its 10-year strategic planning framework and the Cambodian code of conduct for responsible fisheries. Fishing communities themselves have committed to tackling child labour at the local level as part of sustainable management of small-scale fisheries.
"We urge countries to follow the example of Cambodia - by taking concrete policy actions and making commitments for addressing child labour in fisheries and aquaculture," said Árnie M. Mathiesen, head of FAO's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.
"Given the challenges of poverty and limited labour law enforcement in remote areas and in agriculture, the buy in, ownership and commitment of local communities is key for achieving sustainable solutions," he added. Innovative approaches that combine community ownership and agricultural solutions with rights-based action to ensure both sufficient income and food security on the one hand and effective implementation of labour conventions on the other hand, need to be developed or more widely applied.
The International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture, which brings together FAO, ILO, IFPRI/CGIAR, IUF and IFAD, aims at supporting sustainable solutions to child labour in agriculture. This partnership works closely with national ministries of labour, agriculture, fisheries, forestry as well as agricultural extension services, producers', workers' and employers' organizations, agricultural research bodies and other organizations.
FAO's work strengthening families' ability to earn decent incomes, food availability and nutrition helps empower families to send their children to school rather than to work. Programmes supporting income diversification, risk resilience, natural resource management, quality rural education and labour-saving technologies target the root causes of child labour in agriculture, thereby helping to provide sustainable solutions for addressing child labour in agriculture.