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International Partnerships

To eradicate child labour we must focus our attention on agriculture

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This year is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour which calls on all of us to raise awareness of the importance to end child labour, share best practices and reflect on impactful actions

We are publishing an article every month on different themes related to child labour. You can read January’s article for the launch of the year, February’s article announced the Year’s song competition, March’s article looked at how the empowerment of women can result in the reduction of child labour and April’s article assessed the impact of child labour on health. This month we are turning our attention to child labour in agriculture

Every child deserves a peaceful and secure childhood and the chance to go to school. This is still being denied to 152 million girls and boys around the world who are engaged in child labour, many of whom are suffering the worst forms of child labour and their consequences.

© FAO/A. Youssouf
© FAO/A. Youssouf

Most child labour occurs in agriculture

According to the latest  Global Estimates of Child Labour of 2017 the agricultural sector accounts for by far the largest share of child labour, with 71 per cent, or 108 million children. Most child labourers are in Africa, where 20% of all children are affected and where agricultural child labour predominates. Child labour in agriculture is usually found in subsistence and commercial farming and livestock herding. However, the agricultural sector also extends to fishing, forestry, and aquaculture. Most of children’s agricultural work is unpaid and takes place within the family unit.

© FAO

Not all work in agriculture should be considered child labour. 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 the health and personal development of children, due to the time spent and conditions of work. Some participation of children in non-hazardous activities can be positive, as it contributes to the inter-generational transfer of skills and food security.

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. Indeed, such activities can lead to improved self-confidence, self-esteem and work skills.

Children working in agriculture tend to be younger (aged 5 to 11 years) and it is a sector particularly prone to dangerous conditions, making it hazardous work. Hazardous work can cause death or serious illness or injury, as a direct consequence of poor safety and health standards.

Children working in agriculture may be exposed to a number of hazardous situations because of their young age, and made to carry heavy loads, be exposed to chemicals and sharp tools that can lead to fatalities and serious health consequences.

Agriculture is one of the three most dangerous sectors in terms of work-related fatalities, non-fatal accidents and occupational diseases. For example, hazardous work in cotton production is among the worst forms of child labour, as children are exposed to harmful pesticides (as indicated by ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, which was universally ratified in 2020).

© ILO

The causes of child labour in agriculture

Progress in eliminating child labour in agriculture has been slow for a variety of reasons. There is generally limited coverage of agriculture and family undertakings in national labour legislation, limited unionisation, labour force fragmentation, low capacity of labour inspectors and the phenomenon is largely hidden.

Poverty and inequalities are the main drivers of child labour in agriculture, similar to other sectors. However other factors include limited access to quality education, weak infrastructure, lack of social protection, low revenues from crops, inadequate agricultural technology or practices, the lack of resources for paid adult labour, climate and other vulnerabilities, weak empowerment of women and traditional attitudes towards children’s full time participation in agricultural activities.

The path towards rural transformation

First and foremost, child labour should be stamped out, especially in its worst forms, which means that most attention must be placed on agriculture.

For this to happen, there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to all facets of the problem that promotes inclusive rural transformation and rural development. Efforts should be focused on tackling poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition, increasing access to education, empowering women and youth in rural areas, and partnering with all stakeholders, including the rural communities, cooperatives, private sector and all value chain actors, to sustainably transform the agri-food industry

Child labour occurs in many commodities or used for products exported to the European Union and other countries. Therefore, the EU has an important role to play. The EU is committed to ending child labour in agriculture especially in agriculture producing commodities that feed global supply chains. For example, under the EU’s sustainable cocoa initiative, the eradication of child labour has been given prominence alongside the increase of farmers’ incomes and the fight against deforestation. Through incentives for investments and support to partner countries business and EU companies, the aim is to create sustainable global value chains for food and goods exports, but also in domestic value chains, that will generate fair incomes for local producers. Through a strategic and systemic approach child labour can be stamped out and new decent jobs can be created for empowered rural youth.

Meeting international commitments

The international community, including the European Union, has committed to the eradication of child labour contributing to the Sustainable Development Goal target 8.7 of ending child labour in all its forms by 2025.

However, this is increasingly looking less likely. This is why we need renewed commitments and coordinated actions and efforts by all:  governments, private sector, civil society, communities, trade unions and other stakeholders. The solutions are known, it is the firm engagement, resources and coordination that need reinvigorating.

When children are freed from the burden of child labour, they are able to fully realise their right to healthy development.

The EU’s work in cotton and cocoa

Cotton is one of the world’s most widely grown crops and most important agricultural commodities. Directly and indirectly, cotton production and the textile and garment sectors are responsible for the economic growth, employment and food security of millions of farmers and families. However, cotton is one of the most common commodities produced with child labour and forced labour in at least 18 countries.

Through the CLEAR Cotton project, the EU is working with the ILO and FAO to eliminate child labour in all its forms in the cotton, textile and garment value chains in target producing countries, Burkina Faso, Mali, Pakistan and Peru.

The project combines an integrated area-based and value chain approaches to cooperate with governments, social partners, local farmers and communities, and international buyers. It seeks to strengthen national legislation, policies and programmes to address the basic needs and rights of children and to combat child labour and forced labour and is supporting local governments, public services providers, and other relevant stakeholders to take effective action to stop child labour and forced labour in these sectors. 

The project has so far removed and prevented from child labour 4,000 children from the cotton fields and reintegrated them into special schools; older children have received training for suitable jobs when reaching the minimum age for work, also in the cotton and ancillary sectors.

© FAO

Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana account for 70% of the world’s cocoa production. Cocoa is a major contributor to export earning, and it is the main source of livelihoods for almost 7 million farmers. At the same time, the EU is the world's largest importer of cocoa, accounting for 60% of world imports (ITC 2020).

Building on the political priorities under the European Green Deal and the Commission’s ‘zero tolerance’ approach to child labour, in 2020, the EU engaged in partnership with Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire and launched the EU Sustainable Cocoa Initiative, a ‘multi-stakeholder dialogue for sustainable cocoa’, addressing the minimum living income of cocoa producers and sustainable cocoa production.

The EU is seeking to take on a coordinating role and work closely with a wide variety of actors, including national authorities, private sector, EU Member States, civil society, and other relevant organisations at the national, regional and global level, to support a framework for sustainable cocoa production, comprehensively addressing the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability, including child labour, farmers’ income, deforestation, fair trade and investment. A number of Cocoa Talks have been organised on various topics such as Child Labour Traceability, all presentations and reports are available here.

Building on these efforts, the European Commission has adopted a EUR 25 million package of technical assistance and budget support for Sustainable Cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon

What can we do

A number of recommendations have been put forward by EU studies and workshops on the topic of child labour in agriculture, they include:

  • Increase livelihoods in rural areas with support to decent work opportunities, social protection, education and infrastructure.
  • Establish multi-stakeholder platforms at all levels to eliminate child labour.
  • Adopt a systems approach with continual improvement of initiatives.
  • Build on and expand due diligence accountability systems of all stakeholders.
  • Establish and reinforce partnerships and initiatives between governments and corporate actors, aligned with international conventions, standards, guidelines and national policies.
  • Strengthen an enabling environment for reduced child labour with particular attention to local development planning and implementation, and localities at high-risk.
  • Create and reform accessible Vocational Education and Training (VET) systems that match labour market needs in the areas with high prevalence of labour.
  • Establish and strengthen farmer-based organisations and give communities a voice for effective functioning and contributing to reducing child labour.
  • Implement social behaviour change communications on child labour elimination and raise awareness on the harmful effects of child labour.
  • Increase knowledge and data generation and sharing, supporting disaggregated data collection for improved child labour statistics with national and international statistics offices.

What else is happening

  • The ILO and UNICEF will release on 10 June the new global estimates and trends on child labour (2016-2020), under the aegis of Alliance 8.7
  • 12 June is the World Day against Child Labour which is the culminating event of the International Year. The song competition winner will be announced in that occasion.
  • The FAO has announced a ‘Call for action on ending child labour in agriculture’ and the deadline is 14 June 2021
  • INTPA will publish a report on the study on Child labour in the Cocoa production in next month’s. article for June and to mark the World Day Against Child Labour.

What else is happening for the International Year

Find out about all the latest events and announcements of the International Year here.

Additional resources:

Upcoming events and key dates:

  • 10-17 June: World Day Against Child Labour: "Week of Action": The World Day "Week of Action" calendar of events (for virtual events) and interactive map (for virtual and non-virtual events/activities) is online here.
  • 2 June: Documenting child labour: A talk with humanitarian photographer Lisa Kristine, organised by ILO New York, Luxembourg, EU and UNICEF. This virtual side event will consist of a virtual exhibition and interactive discussion with humanitarian photographer Lisa Kristine to raise awareness about child labour and galvanize action in line with SDG Target 8.7. RSVP here.
  • 10 June: ILO release of the new Global Estimates and Trends on Child Labour, 2016-2020 and high level event, see here.
  • 11 June: Together to End Child Labour: A high-level event to mark the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, organised by the EU, ILO, Unicef and Luxembourg, register here.
  • 11 June: A Growing Problem: The Pandemic’s Impact and the Challenge of Child Labor in Agriculture, organised by ILO Washington, Child Labour Coalition. This event will feature two panels on child labour in the US agriculture sector. The agenda and information about how to register is available here
  • 12 June : World Day Against Child Labour, find out what is happening on the international year’s website here.
  • 11 June: Sing along with the EU against Child Labour in Ghana - Live Song Concert, EU Delegation to Ghana, find out more here.
  • 17 June: High-level Dialogue for Action on Child Labour organised by the EU, the ILO and UNICEF as part of the global week of action to mark the World Day and will be attended by EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen.
  • 2-3 November: EU-FAO-ILO High level conference on child labour in agriculture (details forthcoming)