The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is contributing to renewed calls for an end to child labour in agriculture, at the 5th ‘Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour’, underway from 15-20 May 2022 in Durban, South Africa
“In Sub-Saharan Africa, 4 out of 5 child labourers are found working too many hours, undertaking heavy and dangerous work in crop farming, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture. Those children are not able to benefit from compulsory education. This needs to stop,” said Qu Dongyu, FAO director-general, in a video message displayed at the conference.
According to FAO, the number of child labourers rose by more than 15 million from 2016 to 2020 in Sub-Saharan Africa and there are now more children in child labour in the region than in the rest of the world combined – the majority work in family-owned farms.
“We want children to become young people who are enthusiastic about farming and agriculture. We need educated young farmers who are innovative and can feed both their families and the world, to protect the planet and sustain peace,” Qu Dongyu added.
FAO’s data further proves that child labour overwhelmingly occurs in agriculture and accounts for more than 70% of child labour worldwide. This means 112 million children in total work long hours and often perform hazardous tasks in the agricultural sector. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the situation: Child labour often filled gaps in agriculture production due to movement restrictions, or compensated income loss within families.
Household poverty remains one of the main drivers of child labour in the agricultural sector. Many families and communities feel that they have no other choice than to rely on their children to meet their needs for food and income.
To drive progress towards achieving the ‘Sustainable Development Goal’ target of eliminating all forms of child labour (SDG 8.7), FAO said it is calling for a breakthrough in agriculture.
“We need to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security, nutrition and livelihoods of the most vulnerable families. We need financial instruments in agriculture that address the vulnerabilities of small-scale farmers to climate change effects and conflicts,” said Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO assistant director-general and regional representative for Africa, during a conference session on policy priorities to end child labour in Africa.
Solutions - acting together
Child labour in agriculture is a cross-sectoral problem that requires a cross-sectoral solution. FAO is calling on all actors in agrifood systems to take on an active role in ending child labour. FAO said that research institutions can contribute to building evidence, which is essential to raising awareness, initiating dialogue and designing appropriate actions.
Agricultural extension agents are on the frontline, interacting with farmers, fishers, and livestock raisers daily, they can address some of the root causes of child labour in agriculture by supporting shifts to improved practices and technologies. The organisation also urged the private sector to be more proactive and comply with human rights obligations.
The 5th Global Conference
FAO is organising a dedicated high-level thematic panel on child labour in agriculture and a side-event focused on the artisanal fisheries and aquaculture sector. These sessions will present solutions, renew commitment from agricultural actors, and call for more cross-sectoral actions and investments to alleviate poverty and transform our agrifood systems. FAO is also presenting during the high-level thematic panel on the central role of social protection in tackling child labour.
On the sidelines of the conference, FAO has launched a new publication: Ten years of FAO experience on ending child labour in agriculture in Africa. The compendium is the result of an inventory exercise, the first of its kind, examining FAO's activities to combat child labour in agriculture in Malawi, Mali, Uganda, Niger and the United Republic of Tanzania over the period of 2010-2020.
The release also aims to make a practical contribution to the field of the elimination of child labour in agriculture, highlighting some of the activities supported by FAO, processes and practices within countries, achievements and lessons learned.