International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture Statement for 5th Global Conference on Elimination

Durban, 15-20 May 2022

The 2020 ILO-UNICEF Global Estimates of Child Labour reported that progress towards reducing child labour had stalled for the first time in 20 years. Meanwhile, the multiple crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and the growing number of armed conflicts are exacerbating poverty, social exclusion, food insecurity and malnutrition. Such threats to livelihoods are pushing poor households to put their children to work to make ends meet.

The facts about child labour in agriculture are daunting:

  • 70 percent of child labour occurs in agriculture, currently affecting 112 million children, an increase of 4 million since 2016.
  • Children between 5 and 11 years make up three-quarters of all child labour in agriculture.
  • 72 percent of all child labour in agriculture is in small-scale family farms, but it is also found in large-scale agri-businesses.
  • Around half of all children in child labour, including in agriculture, work in hazardous conditions that are detrimental to their safety, health, or moral development.

The ILO and UNICEF also project that, because of the adverse impacts on livelihoods of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of child labourers could rise to 168.9 million by the end of 2022.

Poverty is a main driver of child labour in agriculture. Urgent action is thus needed to improve the livelihoods of poor households, especially those dependent on family farming and small-scale agri-food businesses, and waged agricultural workers to prevent them from having to rely on child labour as a coping mechanism in the face of economic insecurity and to break out of the vicious cycle of intra-generational poverty. This will require an integrated approach across three priority areas for policies and investment:

First is education. Without universal access to free and quality education, including early childhood and compulsory education, boys and girls are denied opportunities for a better future, they are less likely to find decent work and income opportunities as adults, and less likely to be able to provide for their own families. In addition, improving access to vocational and life skill training in rural areas should help adolescents and young adults obtain the skills to enhance their employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.

Second, decent-work deficits in the agricultural sector need to be addressed, including by promoting and protecting workers’ rights and creating an enabling environment for viable small-scale farms and agri-food enterprises. Promoting decent work for all agri-food workers is fundamental to ensure that our food systems are sustainable, resilient and can produce enough healthy and nutritious food to feed the growing world population, leaving no one behind.

Third, gender inequalities need to be reduced. Girls in many rural areas tend to face gender-biased challenges in terms of access to health care and education, as well as in developing self-esteem and opportunities to grow in social and professional life. By promoting comprehensive and gender-sensitive approaches and strategies to address gender discrimination and inequality, key drivers of the incidence and nature of child labour can be tackled, including the intergenerational reproduction of gender inequality.

For the first time, agriculture has a prominent place on the agenda of the Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour. The International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture reiterates the urgent need for action, its commitment to increase efforts to raise awareness and advocate for the elimination of child labour in agriculture and calls on:

All stakeholders to:

  1. Act together and ensure that agricultural and rural stakeholders have a voice in the design of national policies and legislative frameworks for the prevention and elimination of child labour in agriculture.

Governments to:

  1. Develop and implement coherent policies and actions that recognize, promote and ensure decent work for adults and youth of working age, while preventing the use of child labour.
  2. Incentivize school attendance and ensure access to quality education and vocational training for all rural boys and girls.
  3. Improve access to social protection, especially for poor rural households, in accordance with ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No.202).
  4. Incorporate the elimination of child labour into climate action plans and sustainable transition policies for agriculture.

Development banks, in agreement with national governments, to:

  1. Increase finance available for investment in the economic and social development of rural areas, including for rural infrastructure (transport, housing, sanitation, electricity and telecommunication), social services, and, where needed, budget support for enhancing social protection programmes.
  2. Establish and implement safeguard policies, which foresee systematic child labour risk assessment and the related development of preventive and mitigating action plans.

Employers’ organizations and trade unions to:

  1. Promote rights at work and in particular freedom of association and collective bargaining to secure decent work and fair income for agricultural workers, so they can lift their families out of poverty, thereby reducing the risk of child labour.
  2. Promote the ILO Code of Practice on Health and Safety in Agriculture as the basis for ensuring the right to safe work and its role in the elimination of child labour and promotion of youth employment.

Farmer and producer organizations to:

  1. Promote safe agricultural practices and sustainable labour-saving technologies to reduce the dependence on child labour and end hazardous child labour in agriculture.
  2. Develop affordable and easily accessible financial and economic instruments and marketing opportunities to help improve the income-earning opportunities for family farmers and promote the development of off-farm rural economic activities.

Agri-businesses, food companies and other actors along the supply chain to:

  1. Adhere to responsible investment principles, enhance due diligence and good business practices, including transparency and traceability, and ensure a fair distribution of value along the supply chain, to generate decent income and employment opportunities for rural communities.
  2. Respect and promote rights at work, in particular freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining throughout their supply chains.

Research institutions to:

  1. Improve data collection and knowledge generation on child labour in the different sub-sectors of agriculture (i.e., crop farming, capture fisheries, aquaculture, forestry and livestock) to inform targeted and context-specific policy responses.

The IPCCLA commits to providing technical assistance to eliminate child labour in agriculture and will continue to facilitate dialogue and cooperation with governments and agricultural stakeholders to achieve this goal. We must act with renewed urgency to put stalled progress back on track and meet the international commitment to end child labour.

SDG Target 8.7 of ending child labour in all its forms by 2025 will not be reached without a breakthrough in agriculture.

* The International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture (IPCCLA) was launched in 2007 to foster the participation of agricultural organizations in global efforts to eliminate child labour in agriculture. The partnership was established by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR); and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF).This statement is further supported by the Global March Against Child Labour.

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