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New guide to prevent child labour in conflicts and disasters

How-to guide for development professionals, policymakers and civil society groups

Photo: ©FAO/Cengiz Yar
World Day Against Child Labour is marked on 12 June every year.
12 June 2017, Rome - new guide by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) urges child labour concerns be integrated in agriculture, food security and nutrition programs during crises and disasters, and was presented today to mark World Day Against Child Labour.
           
Around the world, 100 million children and young people are affected by disaster each year and 230 million live in areas affected by armed conflict. As a crisis unfolds, a family's capacity to provide adequate food, education and protection for their children is undermined which can result in an increase in both the prevalence and severity of child labour, including the worst forms such as child debt bondage. 

"The agriculture sector holds great potential before, during and after crises, to save lives and contribute to livelihoods, support rural households, provide decent employment and alternatives to child labour, including its worst forms," said FAO Assistant Director-General Kostas Stamoulis.

The 26-page guide Child Labour in Agriculture in Protracted Crises, Fragile and Humanitarian Contexts is aimed at development professionals, policy makers and civil society groups working on agriculture, food security and nutrition programming.

It includes practical steps to ensure that programmes contribute to safe employment and training opportunities for youth and that activities intended to support vulnerable families do not have the unintended consequence of encouraging child labour. For example, a cash-for-work initiative may generate high demand for adult participation which could affect the amount of family farm work left to children.  

Disaster can push children into work

In a crisis, children separated from their families may need to work to survive. Families may pull children out of school and into work. Harvest failures increase the chances that children will need to work to support the household. In conflict, physical hazards such as firearms and landmines can make children's work in agriculture more dangerous. Children may be sent from refugee camps to work in agriculture, or to collect water and fuel where they are at risk of violence and abuse.

Not all participation by children in agriculture is defined as child labour. In many rural communities, children help around the home, look after animals, and pick fruit and vegetables. For short periods and in safe conditions, light agricultural work can allow children to acquire valuable knowledge and skills that will benefit them in the future.

However, conflict and disaster can push children into work that is unsuitable for their age, is likely to harm their physical and mental development and deprives them of the opportunity to learn. Child labour during a crisis perpetuates the intergenerational cycle of poverty and hinders recovery. Children who leave school or do not return to school after a crisis are more likely to remain poor.

There are an estimated 168 million child labourers worldwide, 98 million (nearly 60 percent) of whom work in agriculture. The majority work as unpaid family members, often starting at an early age, and may do hazardous work that includes exposure to pesticides, dangerous machinery, heavy loads and long hours. Evidence shows children and adolescents working in agriculture suffer higher rates of injury and death than adults.
 
We must leave no one behind

Striving to address child labour through programmes that improve agriculture, food security and nutrition is key. The agricultural sector holds great potential to increase poor rural households' food security and livelihoods, and helps rural communities recover faster from a shock and avoid negative coping strategies such as pulling children out of school to work.

The guide draws from FAO's long experience working with partners to reduce agricultural child labour. For example in Niger, FAO worked with producers' organizations to identify hazardous tasks typically performed by children, such as carrying heavy loads and working with sharp tools, and introduced alternative methods to reduce harm.

The guide complements FAO's Handbook for monitoring and evaluation of child labour in agriculture.     

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