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.

The Partnership recognizes that agriculture needs to become a priority area in child labour elimination at national and global level. Understanding the root causes of child labour, identifying and addressing the constraints that rural people face in agricultural production, such as insufficient labour force, low productivity, low prices for their produce and access to land, together with cost and distance of education, requires collaboration between agriculture and labour stakeholders. Addressing these root causes will be possible through a better integration of child labour issues into agriculture and rural development policies and actions, and of agriculture into national labour policies and legislation.

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).