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Children in agriculture: The unseen scourge

Today is the World Day Against Child Labour. This year the focus is on the elimination of child labour in agriculture.



Child labourers in agriculture perform hazardous labour - work that could threaten their lives

Labour: Each year the World Day Against Child Labour has often focused on one of the "Worst Forms of Child Labour" listed in Convention No.182, starting with the Unconditional Worst Forms, such as child trafficking.

This was then followed by child domestic work and then child labour in mining last year. The event is aimed at mobilising people around the world against child labour and its worst forms, reflecting local cultures and customs, while encouraging the participation of authorities, the media, civil society and the public at large.

This year the World Day Against Child Labour focuses on the elimination of child labour in agriculture. Worldwide, agriculture is the sector where the largest percentage of working children is found - nearly 70 per cent. Over 132 million girls and boys aged 5 to 14 years old often work from sun up to sun down on farms and plantations, planting and harvesting crops, spraying pesticides, and tending livestock.

These myths have to be banished:

* That children working in the field are learning a skill

* That children using pesticides is just a task

* That child labour in agriculture only exists in developing countries...

These myths that have perpetuated for long, have to be broken for the sake of the children who are wasting there days and nights, proving that its not just a hobby or just helping their father or just a learning skill but its actually snatching their childhood.

Child Labour in agriculture has become a global phenomenon. It is found in all regions of the world. Of an estimated 218 million child labourers 70 per cent of them are working in agriculture. Nine out of ten children in rural areas are working in agriculture or are involved in the similar activities.

Many of the world's child labourers in agriculture perform hazardous labour - work that can threaten their lives, limbs, health and general well-being. Agriculture is one of the three most dangerous sectors in which to work at any age, along with construction and mining in terms of work-related deaths and injuries, and this is especially true for children, whose lack of experience or training and still-developing bodies make them particularly vulnerable.

It is found in both developed and developing countries and the trend to employ children in these fields has also become very common. It is also a sector where many children are effectively denied education through factors which include lack of schools and teachers, lack of free education and so on.

Children become farm labourers around the world at an early age. Most statistical surveys only cover child workers aged 10 and above. Many children begin work at an earlier age, however. Rural children, in particular girls, tend to begin work young, at 5, 6 or 7 years of age.

In some countries, children under 10 are estimated to account for 20 per cent of child labour in rural areas.

According to ILO report 73.3 per cent boys and 78.8 per cent girls are involved in agriculture and animal husbandry. The work that children perform in agriculture is often invisible and unacknowledged because they assist their parents or relatives on the family farm or they undertake piecework or work under a quota system on larger farms or plantations, often as part of migrant worker families.

Agriculture is historically and traditionally an under-regulated sector in many countries. This means that child labour laws - if they exist - are often less stringent in agricultural industries than in other industries.

In some countries, adult and child workers in agriculture are not covered by or are exempt from safety and health laws covering other categories of adult workers. Children are generally allowed to operate machinery and drive tractors at a younger age in agriculture than in other sectors. It degrades often harms and even kills children.

Since 1788 when industrial revolution started, the burden to make profits was on children. To get more and more profit, children were used as cheap labour not only in factories but also in the production of the raw material, in agriculture.

Starting from chocolate industry to textiles and food industry all are dependent on agriculture for raw materials.

The major reason for hiring children has nothing to do with economic efficiency. Children are easier to manage than adults - although less skilled, they are less aware of their rights, less troublesome, less complaining and more flexible - and ultimately expendable.

For some employers they constitute a reserve of casual labour to be hired and fired at will. When their labour is illegal, they and their parents are less likely to complain to the authorities for fear of losing whatever meagre income they bring to their families.

Moreover, some employers genuinely consider that they are doing a favour to the children whom they employ by offering them work and income. Thus, declaring child labour to be illegal may in some cases have the perverse effect of depriving child workers of much of the protection provided by labour legislation to adults.

This only serves to highlight the point that prohibition alone will not suffice. Simple bans on child labour are not successful if they are not supplemented by a range of other measures. It has to be understood that it is not the responsibility of children to develop a country but it's the responsibility of the country to develop a child.

We need to put all the national and international legislation effectively. Today there are many boycott calls by the NGO's, civil societies and other organisations have raised concerned about the products assembled or otherwise manufactured in with child labour.

Many ethical trading initiatives and consumer awareness programmes like Rugmark, International Cocoa Initiatives, have been successful in combating child labour but still a lot more has to be done.

The countries and cooperates should think of this issue seriously and abide by the agreements that they have made nationally and internationally. There should be proper monitoring system to check that there is no child labour used in the production of raw material as well as in any segment of supply chain.

Source: Global March Against Child Labour

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Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
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