Saturday, 23 January 2021

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Child labour in agriculture: a ban is not enough

FAO ILO DEVCO Child Labour Conference Brussels

The “abusive employment of children in rural jobs [...] is unacceptable”, stated Rodrigo de Lapuerta, FAO Director of the Liaison Office in Brussels.  

On the occasion of the World day against Child Labour on June 12, the FAO, the ILO and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO) co-organised a conference and called for more united efforts.

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 8, Target 7 sets 2025 as the date for ending child labour in all its forms. Yet the trend line based on the pace of progress since 2012 seems to indicate that child labour will persist after that date.

While child labour has reduced by 19 million between 2012 and 2016, child labour in agriculture has increased in the same period to now represent 71% of all child labour. These numbers seem to be increasing and are mainly driven by conflict, disasters and forced migrations.

Trend line infographic Child Labour Conference Brussels

“Child labour is a do or die”

Prudence Ayerbare, programme manager for the Uganda National Farmers Federation, admitted that “most of the time, child labour is a do or die”: if you do it, you die in the long run, and if you don’t, you risk starvation.

Because of poverty in rural areas, parents often have no other choice than bringing their children to the fields with them, Kirill Buketov, a representative for the Internation Union of Food (IUF) outlined.

When there is a “2.5 km average distance between a cocoa farm and a school”, when “there is no school supply and food is lacking”, working is the fields is almost unavoidable, Maria Suman-Negot, for the European Cocoa Association, pointed out.

Even if “most countries already have good legislation on the matter,” there is an urgent need to help labour inspectors reach the most remote areas, Badra Alawa, ILO project manager, explained.

In 2016, the Remote Global Estimates of Child Labour indicated that one-fifth of all African children were involved in child labour. The proportion is more than twice as high as in any other region. Furthermore, 85 percent of the 72 million children involved in child labour in Africa are found in the agricultural sector.

Regional prevalence infographic Child Labour Conference Brussels

Beyond awareness raising, building livelihood

Increased global awareness on the problem and solutions is only a first step towards ending child labour. As many factors are involved and intertwined, such as poverty, insecurity, lack of food and education, tackling child labour requires a multisectoral and multi-level action.

Andrews Addoquaye Tagoe, a Ghanaian Trade Unionist and child labour activist, insisted on the empowerment of communities and the use of rural institutions to better implement projects against child labour. “When the community structure sees the need, there’s room for action”, he argued.

“The trends are not positive in spite of the efforts we are putting in”, Wim Oltohf, DG DEVCO Deputy Head of Unit for rural development, food security and nutrition, acknowledged. He explains that fighting child labour cannot be conceived without taking action on poverty and hunger, in accordance with SDG 1 and SDG 2.

There is a pressing need to “create decent working conditions for adults” and ensure “occupational safety and productivity” in alternative programmes aimed to end child labour, Badra Alawa, ILO Project manager, asserted.

Think global, act local

“It is time to go beyond the exclusive focus on selected global supply chains and begin investing resources into tackling child labour in all situations”, Rodrigo de Lapuerta said. “It is also essential to engage agricultural workers and producer organisations to make a change.”

“Conflicts, climate change, the displacement of populations” are all aggravating factors of an already worrying situation in agriculture, Ariane Genthon, Programme Officer for Child Labour in Agriculture at the FAO, highlighted.

Politicians, along with the private sector and consumers should be held accountable, Sarah Legente, Head of Unit Producers Relations at Fairtrade France, recommended. She believes a strong EU legislation is now needed to share responsibility among stakeholders.

Legislators should see the question of market access as essential leverage to bring developing countries and companies to negotiate and revise the implementation of their laws prohibiting child labour, Kirill Buketov considers.

“One child worker is one too many”, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica asserted. Children should not work in fields, but on dreams! All those involved must now provide alternative sustainable livelihoods to those communities affected.


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