International Congress for Occupational Health: Supporting a breakthrough against child labour in agriculture
The 33rd International Congress on Occupational Health, organized by the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH), was held in a digital format from 6 to 10 February, under the theme “Sharing solutions in occupational health through and beyond the pandemic.” Overall, the Congress saw the participation of more than 1 400 delegates from 98 countries.
During the congress, FAO organized a special session focused on “Supporting a breakthrough against child labour and hazardous work in agriculture.” The session drew the attention of occupational health professionals, policy makers, academics and researchers across a multitude of disciplines to the need and ways to step up efforts to keep children safe in agriculture, while promoting sustainable production.
Mr. Peter Hurst chaired the session, with a panel composed of Mr. Halim Hamzaoui, OSH Specialist at International Labour Organization (ILO), Mr. Andrew Tagoe, Deputy Secretary-General of the General Agricultural Workers’ Union (GAWU), Ms. Nadia Correale, FAO Social Protection and Community Development Specialist, and Ms. Ariane Genthon, FAO Programme Officer, Child Labour in Agriculture.
Globally, 160 million boys and girls are found in child labour. More than 70 per cent of them are found in agriculture, working long hours and often performing hazardous tasks.
The special session organized by FAO was an opportunity for presenting new tools and guidance for addressing hazardous child labour in agriculture, while increasing the visibility of existing good practices and game-changing solutions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated vulnerabilities and social inequalities, especially in rural areas. Rural economies are usually based on self-employment, mostly home-based, and small or microbusinesses, which are highly vulnerable due to less cash in hand and low resilience. Workers are poorly protected under labour legal frameworks, personal protective equipment is scarce, and healthcare infrastructure is relatively low. Pesticides are among the most serious risks to workers’ health.
Addressing children’s exposure to pesticides and agrochemicals is considered a top priority among FAO and its partner organizations. As part of these efforts, FAO develops context-specific and easy-to-use awareness raising tools for behavioral changes at community level, like “Protect Children from Pesticides!”, a visual guide for extension agents and facilitators of the FAO Junior Farmer Field Schools.
The Organization also focuses on enhancing the capacity of agricultural communities to take action against hazardous child labour and hazardous pesticides, while educating young people and children on the environmental and health consequences of the use of hazardous chemicals in agriculture. To this purpose, FAO recently developed the REEFI app, an educational game for mobile phones that promotes occupational safety and health in agriculture among youth in the Arab region.
At the global level, FAO engages in major international activities advocating for the elimination of hazardous child labour through the promotion of decent work for youth and safe and sustainable farming practices. Together with its partners, the Organization works to accelerate the engagement of policy-makers and agricultural stakeholders on ending child labour in all the agricultural sub-sectors, on a large-scale and in a concerted manner.
The synergies in place will contribute to mobilize expertise and contributions to the forthcoming Fifth Global Conference on Child Labour in May 2022, hosted by the Government of South Africa together with the ILO.