The Right to Food

Efforts towards the realization of the right to food and child labour elimination should go hand-in-hand

News - 03.03.2021

3 March 2021, Rome - Worldwide agriculture is the largest employer of children, with about 110 million boys and girls working too many hours, too young, in harmful working conditions. They work to contribute to the livelihoods of their families and to secure sufficient food and agriculture production not ensured by the available adult workforce. This has lifelong consequences on their education, health, development and opportunities to lift out of poverty.

During the launch of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour 2021, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) called to intensify efforts towards reducing child labour in agriculture through a dedicated work programme within FAO's Strategic Framework.

“Policies, programs, and investments related to agri-food systems need to address the root causes of child labour, including household poverty”, the FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, underlined during the virtual event.

Benjamin Davis, Director of the Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equity Division at FAO explained that improving livelihoods, decent employment in the agricultural sector and social protection programmes can be part of the solution. Better and safe farming practices can also help reduce the families’ reliance on child labour and keep children in school.

Children´s work is associated with exploitation and other forms of maltreatment, but also with health problems, poor diets and inadequate nutritional intake.

If children are exposed to pesticides and other toxic chemicals while working, they are more likely to get cancer or respiratory diseases. When they get older and become parents or enter the labour market, they might have less opportunities for having good lives themselves.

Children have different bodies than adults and need to drink much more than an adult and when at work they will perspire comparatively more than an adult. Children performing hazardous tasks might not absorb properly nutrients, what may have very negative consequences on their growth.

Child labour perpetuates a cycle of poverty for the children involved, their families and communities. They are likely to become unskilled youth, not able to learn and apply new techniques and practices of agriculture and food production. 

Placing children’s rights at the centre of governments’ efforts

Governments are responsible for ensuring that agriculture do not cause any harm to children and offering sustainable alternative to child labour, for which multisectoral and intersectoral policies, convening agriculture, labour, education and social protection are key.

Implementing school feeding programmes and laws encourages school enrolment, healthy and nutritious diets for the most vulnerable children and boosts local purchases. School feeding programmes are implemented in 130 countries, benefitting 368 million children worldwide. Recently, the National Assembly of Togo has approved unanimously a school feeding law that is based on the right to food and the importance of healthy diets for every child.

COVID-19 places more pressure on poor and vulnerable families. Due to school closures and economic difficulties, children may drop out of school and be put to work in conditions that are harmful and unacceptable, particularly in rural areas. At least 320 million children have had no access to school meals anymore since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Voicing concern about human rights

Child labour is a human rights issue, and so it is advocated in the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC) and the Sustainable Development Goal 8.7.

“A human rights-based approach is key to eliminate child labour”, said Juan Carlos García y Cebolla, FAO Right to Food Team Leader. Making progress in national human rights agenda makes it easier for children to feed themselves in dignity, as well as to enhance poverty reduction and inclusive growth, added.

The Right to Food Guidelines, which were adopted in 2004 by FAO Council, can help elaborate national legislations for achieving children’s human rights to food, education and health.

As the world has made big strides over the past 20 years in protecting, promoting and fulfilling children’s rights, more work remains to be done.

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