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FAO and ILO partnering on child labor in fisheries

Draft document in the works provides guidance and advice to governments

Photo: ©FAO/John Isaac
In Manado, Indonesia, a young worker holds a prize carp that has been raised in a fish hatchery.

23 December 2011, Rome - FAO and the International Labor Organization have released the first draft of a guidance document that aims to help policymakers and government authorities tackle the thorny issue of child labor in fisheries.

The two organizations are currently seeking public feedback on the document, FAO-ILO guidance for addressing child labor in fisheries and aquaculture: policy and practice, in order to release a final version later next year.

Most experts agree that child labor in fishing is a widespread problem. But specifics are lacking - statistics on child labor are insufficient and additionally often lump fisheries, forestry, agriculture and livestock-raising together. Combined, child workers in these four sectors are estimated to make up the largest portion — 60 percent — of the world's 215 million under age laborers.

Activities in which children engage can range from actively fishing, cooking on boats, diving for reef fish or to free snagged nets, herding fish into nets, peeling shrimp or cleaning fish and crabs, repairing nets, sorting, unloading, and transporting catches, and processing or selling fish.

A complex issue

While some of these activities are extremely dangerous, others are not — work performed by children and child labor are not necessarily the same thing, according to the FAO-ILO document. While child labor impairs children's well-being or hinders their education and development, other types of work are not, and can even be beneficial to children of a certain a age Interventions aimed at stemming child labor must be able to make this distinction, the report says.

"The FAO-ILO guidance document seeks to shed light on this issue , as well as on the nature, scope, causes and consequences of child labor in fisheries and aquaculture," said Bernd Seiffert of FAO's Economic and Social Department.

"It also provides guidance to governments and development agencies in how to identify where child labor in fisheries and aquaculture is happening, sort out situations in which children are helping support family livelihoods from bad-practices, mainstream these considerations in national policies, and develop strategies for dealing with it," added Rolf Willman of FAO's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.

Prevention is key

Investment in the prevention of child labor is the most cost-effective approach to ending child labor in the long run, say FAO and ILO. This means tackling root causes so that children at risk do not become child laborers in the first place.

"By addressing poverty and promoting development, children stand a better chance to keep out of unsuitable work and especially hazardous labor," the working document states.

Additional recommendations it makes include:

  • Ensuring that national labor legislation provides full protection of children.
  • Promoting implementation of that legislation through incentives and enforcement mechanisms.
  • Involving local communities in tackling the issue
  • Supporting education and anti-poverty projects in communities at risk
  • Improving coordination between government agencies working on rural development, poverty and labor issues
  • Incorporating child labor considerations into "port state measures" use to check ships coming in to  port
  • Establishing good programmes to promote safety-at-sea in the fishing sector that include issues of child labor


The FAO-ILO guidance document for addressing child labor in fisheries and aquaculture: policy and practice is currently available for public comment. Feedback on the draft document can be sent to FI-inquiries@fao.org through 30 April 2012.