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Child labourers unseen victims of climate change

Child labourers unseen victims of climate change

By Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO Assistant Director General and Regional Representative for Africa.

A new report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has put a spotlight for the first time on the link between climate change and the scourge of child labour, which affects roughly 160 million children globally with African agriculture at the epicentre.

The report has found that the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are

forcing some children to work at greater intensity and duration. These children engaged in child labour are the unseen victims of climate change.

In Ethiopia, which was one of four countries analysed for the report, heavy rains were found to be more likely to increase the incidence and intensity of work for boys, as rural households likely require additional hands for cleaning up and repairs after heavy rain, and are forced to turn to children for help.

As instances of climate shocks increase, so too will the demands placed on children to work more often and for longer.

World Day Against Child Labour (12 June) is a timely call to action that we must all do more to prevent child labour in agriculture in Africa.

Africa must be at the centre of change

There are more children in child labour in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world combined. Agriculture accounts for 82 percent of all child labour in Africa. So ending child labour in all its forms will be decided in Africa’s agriculture sector.

The majority of children working in agriculture are doing unpaid work within the family unit – helping the family to make ends meet – and they are found in crop production, rearing livestock, forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture. Child labour means children miss out on school and risk healthy development. It damages the agricultural sector and perpetuates rural poverty. It must end.

Creating change for rural communities

At FAO, we have developed a framework for ending child labour in agriculture which is a guide for policymakers.

Our advocacy efforts have led to child labour being included as a priority area for action in last year’s Durban Call to Action, which was endorsed by government delegates, workers’ organizations, United Nations agencies, civil society, and regional organizations.

We have also established the Child Labour in Agriculture Prevention Facility which will catalyse partnerships and investments to strengthen rural communities and give rural children better futures.

We have supported Mali and Malawi to develop national plans against child labour. In Uganda, FAO’s policy and institutional support have resulted in the Government incorporating child labour prevention into national policies.

In Cabo Verde, a European Union-funded project saw FAO carry out a national survey on pesticide practices, including children’s exposure to harmful chemicals, which led to the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment identifying alternatives to hazardous chemicals and promoting the alternatives to farmers through Farmer Field Schools.

Our Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools (JFFLS) directly give hope to rural children by promoting quality education and helping them acquire age-appropriate farming skills that contribute to their food security. In Uganda, our team reports that parents of the students are increasingly willing to send their children to these field schools rather than to work.

In Mali and Burkina Faso, we worked with local authorities, the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the European Union on the CLEAR Cotton project to diversify cotton farmers’ livelihoods for greater incomes, so they no longer need to send their children to work. The investment has paid off in seeing smiling children attend school while their parents are supported to turn to improved poultry farming and other profitable livelihoods.

We must do more for Africa’s children

Despite these successes, more must be done to fight child labour in agriculture in Africa. Social protection policies, which can be thought of as a productive social safety net for the most vulnerable, must be strengthened, and inclusive and ensure rural households have adequate living income and access to basic services to mitigate the need to engage children in work.

Government policies and investments can support rural families to be more resilient to climate-related shocks. Fee-free schools and incentives for school attendance, such as a daily nutritious school meal,

can help keep boys and girls in school. Together, let us do more to end child labour in agriculture. It is an urgent task, and we cannot fail Africa’s children.

Abebe Haile-Gabriel argues that ending child labour in agriculture in Africa must be an urgent priority. (Photograph by: ©FAO)


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