A total of 60% of all child labourers, (those aged between five and 17 years old), work in agriculture across the globe. This includes livestock, farming, aquaculture, forestry and fishing. These frightening child labour statistics were released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Unicef.
This percentage equates to an approximate 98 million children, with the vast majority being unpaid.
“In agriculture, this percentage is higher, and is combined with very early entry into work, sometimes between five and seven years of age.
“Agriculture is one of the three most dangerous sectors in terms of work-related fatalities, non-fatal accidents and occupational diseases. About 59% of all children in hazardous work aged 5 – 17 are in agriculture,” the ILO said.
Poverty, together with limited access to quality education, inadequate agricultural technology and traditional attitudes toward children’s engagement in agricultural activities, are some of the main causes of child labour in agriculture.
Light duties vs child labour
“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,” the organisation added.
It does, however, make the distinction that participation in some agricultural activities does not constitute as 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.”
In the context of family farming, livestock husbandry and small-scale fishing, ILO stated that the participation of children in activities that are not dangerous or harmful, can have a positive influence on a child as it can contribute to the intergenerational transfer of skills. It can also improve food security.
“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.”
Difficult to address
Due to the sector’s unique characteristics, progress in ending child labour in agriculture has been gradual. The majority of child labourers working as unpaid family labour without formal contracts, continuity between rural household and workplace, and traditions of children participating in agricultural activities from an early 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,” the ILO further explained.
When home tasks are taken into consideration, girls often work longer hours than boys, leaving less time for education.
Agriculture is one of the three most hazardous industries in terms of workplace safety and health, regardless of the worker’s age. Although some agricultural jobs are appropriate, it is vital to remember that children under the age of 18 require specific protection. Children’s minds and bodies are still developing until late adolescence, so they absorb hazardous substances more readily and retain them longer.
How it can impact a child’s health
“Their growth and functioning of their nervous system can be impaired by certain agricultural chemicals. Children also have higher energy and fluid requirements and are more susceptible to dehydration. Some of the effects may not become evident until adulthood.
“These special vulnerabilities of children and youth must be taken into account in all types of agricultural work: subsistence farming and fishing, industrial operations and contract growing for the international market. Migrant workers are especially at risk. The line between what is acceptable work for children, and what is hazardous, can easily be crossed,” the ILO cautioned.