Child labour in agriculture

In many countries child labour is mainly an agricultural issue. Worldwide 60 percent of all child labourers in the age group 5-17 years work in agriculture, including farming, fishing, aquaculture, forestry, and livestock. This amounts to over 98 million girls and boys. The majority (67.5%) of child labourers are unpaid family members. In agriculture this percentage is higher, and is combined with very early entry into work, sometimes between 5 and 7 years of age1. Agriculture is one of the three most dangerous sectors in terms of work-related fatalities, non-fatal accidents and occupational diseases. About 59 percent of all children in hazardous work aged 5–17 are in agriculture.

Poverty is the main cause of child labour in agriculture, together with limited access to quality education, inadequate agricultural technology and access to adult labour, high hazards and risks, and traditional attitudes towards children’s participation in agricultural activities. Especially in the context of family farming, small-scale fisheries and livestock husbandry, some participation of children in non-hazardous activities can be positive as it contributes to the inter-generational transfer of skills and children’s food security. It is important to distinguish between light duties that do no harm to the child and child labour, which is work that interferes with compulsory schooling and damages health and personal development, based on hours and conditions of work, child’s age, activities performed and hazards involved.

Participation in some agricultural activities is not always child labour. Age- appropriate tasks that are of lower risk and do not interfere with a child’s schooling and leisure time can be a normal part of growing up in a rural environment. Especially in the context of family farming, small-scale fisheries and livestock husbandry, some participation of children in non-hazardous activities can be positive as it contributes to the inter-generational transfer of technical and social skills and children’s food security. Improved self-confidence, self-esteem and work skills are attributes often detected in young people engaged in some aspects of farm work. Therefore it is important to distinguish between light duties that do no harm to the child and child labour, which is work that interferes with compulsory schooling and damages health and personal development, based on hours and conditions of work, child’s age, activities performed and hazards involved.

Sub-sectors

Child labour is common in all agriculture sub-sectors, albeit with different characteristics:

Cross-cutting issues

Progress in eliminating child labour in agriculture has been slow due to the sector specificities. Limited coverage of agriculture and family undertakings in national labour legislations, limited unionization, fragmentation of the labour force, low capacity of labour inspectors to cover remote rural areas, majority of child labourers working as unpaid family labour without formal contracts, continuity between rural household and the workplace, and traditions of children participating in agricultural activities from a young age make the problem difficult to address.

Gender roles, age, and cultural norms distinguish the type of work performed by girls and boys, the number of hours worked as well as who gets an education. Gender differences in child labour increase with age. In many cases, girls work more hours than boys when domestic chores are taken into account, leaving less time for school. Issues cross-cutting all agricultural sub-sectors:

International partnership in agriculture

The International partnership for cooperation on child labour in agriculture is a global initiative bringing together ILO, FAO, IFAD, CGIAR and IUF since 2007. It was launched to foster the participation of agricultural organizations in global efforts to eliminate child labour in agriculture. Poverty and inadequate enforcement of labour legislation are some of the causes of child labour in agriculture, but also the hazardous nature of agricultural work and the structure of agricultural production need to be addressed in order to eradicate this practice. Stakeholders in the agricultural sector can play an important role to this end.

The Partnership has gained increasing recognition thanks to its steady engagement in major child labour policy dialogues, including the second and third Global Conferences on Child Labour. Advocacy and awareness-raising efforts have contributed to a better understanding of this issue and on the need for agricultural and labour professionals to join forces, knowledge and expertise towards the elimination of child labour. The Partnership also carries out capacity building activities at country level to support key actors in the agricultural sector to address child labour issues in national policies and programmes, extension services and monitoring activities. The Partnership works at national, regional and global levels to:

  • Promote cooperation between agriculture and labour stakeholders and ensure coherence of policies and programmes on child labour prevention.
  • Promote youth employment opportunities in agriculture.
  • Integrate child labour concerns in the programming of activities of agricultural and labour organizations.
  • Promote the adoption of safer agricultural practices and prevent children from carrying out hazardous work in agriculture.
  • Improve rural livelihoods and income-generating activities.
     

Highlights

1 ILO: Accelerating action against child labour – Global Report under the follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work 2010 (Geneva, 2010).