Child labour is not just in factories

98 million children work in fields, farms and on fishing boats. To overcome starvation should we start from them?

The story of Mayura (not real name) is not very different from that of 100 million children who instead of going to school are forced to work each day in the rural areas of Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America, contributing to the production of many products which each day we eat and drink.

These boys and girls are everywhere, often hidden in small tomato fields or in large cotton plantations, on fishing boats, in mountainous areas and forests. They walk for miles and miles to find wood and water, take animals to pasture, or simply carry out domestic work all day, child labour perpetuates a cycle of poverty for the children involved, for their families and often for their original communities.

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98 million children work in the agricultural industry

The figures are clear: according to the estimates of the International Labour Organisation (OIL) in many countries child labour is primarily agricultural. Furthermore, 60% of the dangerous work carried out by children aged between 5 and 17 years is in agriculture, including fishing and animal breeding. Out of a total of more than 168 million child labourers, 98 million work in agriculture. The majority (67.5%) are minors who work within their nuclear family and do not receive any wages. Often they begin working very early, aged between 5 and 7 years, and young girls especially from 5 carry out domestic tasks inside and outside the home.

There are many risks of fatal accidents.

Agriculture is one of the three most dangerous industries together with building and mining, in terms of fatal accidents, other accidents and diseases and infections caught while working, for instance due to using chemical substances and pesticides.
The children used in agriculture often work long and hard hours and at extreme temperatures. Among the major risks are those associated with using hazardous materials like knives and blades and machinery such as tractors. Many children can be injured or killed falling from trees where they are collecting fruit, or while herding animals, or they risk drowning while fishing.

It is not just poverty which is responsible for child labour

Poverty is clearly one of the main factors which forces families to make their children work rather than sending them to school. But it is not the only reason. Lack of employment opportunities for adults, inadequate technologies which keep agricultural productivity low, and poor access to school facilities in rural areas contribute to child labour. In addition, the danger and risks associated with agricultural work are often not foreseen, while the participation of children in the family’s economic activities is traditionally accepted and considered an important part of learning.

Not all work carried out by minors is dangerous.

Child labour is defined by the Minimum Age Convention (no. 138) of 1973 and Convention (no. 182) on child labour of 1999, now ratified by 161 and 174 states respectively.
The term child labour refers to work which deprives the child of his or her infancy, potential and dignity, and which is harmful to physical and mental development, and which deprives him or her of the opportunity to go to school or leave school prematurely.
It is important however to distinguish between child labour which causes damage to physical and mental health, harms development and interferes with the right to education and play, and the participation of children in the working and economic activities of the nuclear family, which is by nature light and carried out for a few hours a week and can be educational and have a positive contribution to the child’s growth.

How to eliminate child labour in agriculture

Eliminating child labour in agriculture requires various measures, given the complexity of the issue which is not only the fault of agriculture but includes employment, health, education and technology. Two specialist agencies of the United Nations involved in labour and agriculture have joined forces and experience in order to prevent and eradicate child labour and bring the issue to the centre of interest of government and European policies, collaborating with agricultural, business and labour organisations, creating better employment opportunities for adults and young people in rural areas and providing concrete support for children who work in agriculture.

Here for more information.

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