How FAO is stepping up against child labour in agriculture

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is a United Nations organization based in Italy. Leveraging the impetus provided by the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, FAO is stepping up its efforts to strengthen the capacities of a wide range of agricultural actors in order to accelerate child labour prevention and youth employment promotion in their work.

Child labour overwhelmingly occurs in agriculture. 

Agriculture remains the main employment sector for children, accounting for more than 70 percent of child labour worldwide. According to the 2021 Global Estimates, an additional four million children were drawn into child labour in agriculture over the period 2016-2020. An estimated 112 million boys and girls are now working in the agricultural sector, including crop farming, fisheries and aquaculture, livestock, and forestry.

Why is child labour concentrated in agriculture?

Much of child labour happens in agriculture because of the labour-intensive and hazardous nature of the tasks as well as the difficulty of identifying and remunerating an adult workforce to accomplish those tasks.

Yet, household poverty remains one of the main drivers of child labour in agriculture. Where there is poverty and hunger, there is also an increased likelihood of child labour. Low family incomes, lack of livelihood alternatives, poor access to education, and limited labour law enforcement all contribute to child labour in rural areas. 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. In fact, an estimated two-thirds of agricultural child labourers work in family operations or alongside family members. Children who work instead of benefitting from schooling are likely to become the hungry ones of tomorrow, perpetuating the cycle of rural poverty.

In addition to the existing challenges, the COVID-19 crisis is causing an unprecedented decline in economic activity and jobs all over the world, hitting particularly hard agriculture and food systems. This has already led to a surge in hunger and poverty, potentially backfiring on child labour.

Achieving the ambitious Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 and thus eliminating all forms of child labour by 2025 will be arduous: we need a breakthrough in agriculture. Concerted actions are required to alleviate poverty and hunger and transform our food systems.

How to address the problem in the most-affected sector

FAO works hand-in-hand with governments to foster the economic inclusion of rural households through social protection schemes and initiatives aimed at enhancing productivity and income diversification.

The objective is to boost the incomes of rural families so that they have the means to send their children to school rather than work.

Social norms may drive parents and communities to perceive child labour as a normal part of the rural upbringing: raising awareness on the ground on why children are more at risk and should not perform some tasks that can have a long-term impact on their development is key to sustainable change in behaviour and practices.

Together with its partners, FAO also promotes sustainable labour-saving technologies that can help reduce the demand for child labour, as well as safe and sustainable agricultural practices to prevent hazardous work. FAO also strives to integrate agriculture and nutrition topics in education in rural areas to make school more relevant and valued by caregivers resorting to child labour.

Innovative solutions

This year, FAO has stepped up efforts to catalyze global action and strengthen the capacities of a wide range of agricultural actors to include child labour prevention and decent youth employment promotion in their work.

Throughout 2021, FAO has conducted extensive regional consultations with agricultural stakeholders, capturing good practices, promising experiences, and innovative ideas to accelerate progress. The results of this process will inform the Global Solutions Forum: Acting together to end child labour in agriculture, a high-level online event organized on 2-3 November by FAO, in collaboration with the sister UN agency, the International Labour Organization.

The Forum will bring together representatives of ministries of agriculture, fisheries, livestock and forestry, producers and farmers’ organizations, workers’ organizations, development banks, businesses, civil society and academia, children, youth advocates, and former child labourers, among others.

The objective is to mobilize concerted action worldwide, raise the commitment of agricultural stakeholders, and scale-up concrete solutions in agri-food systems towards the V Global Conference on the eradication of child labour.

Find out more here.
Register for the Forum here.