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South Asia Regional Consultation On Child Labour In Agriculture and Allied Activities


29 July 2010, New Delhi: Addressing the South Asia Regional Consultation on Child Labour on Agriculture and Allied Activities, Mr Harish Rawat, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, India, announced that the government is developing a roadmap towards ratification of Convention No. 182 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. The consultation was organised by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) and Global March Against Child Labour in New Delhi, India, on 29 July 2010.

India is among the handful countries in the world that have still not ratified the international convention that prohibits child labour in its worst forms. Minister Rawat said “even if there is a single child engaged in child labour, it is a challenge for us as a government, and to all of you as citizens and civil society partners.” 

Justice M. K. Sarma, Supreme Court of India, stated “… according to my estimates, there are at least 1.5 million child labourers in Delhi alone. One can understand the situation in the rest of the country. The judiciary has provided several directions in the matter of child labour, yet their implementation is very slow. The formation of the State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights, for instance, has not happened in most of the state though the directions were given in 2005.” He also stressed the need for the formation of a committee by central government for rehabilitation of rescued child labourers.

Lack of proper education, lacuna in the effective implementation of laws, lack of awareness among the masses about the hazards of child labour together with social bias and a stronghold of traditions are just some of the main reasons behind the persistence of child labour. These were some of the views that were discussed during this one-day consultation.

The conference highlighted the issues related to the incidence of child labour in the agricultural sector, issues that are most prevalent yet most ignored and least discussed. Global March Chairperson Mr Kailash Satyarthi raised four pertinent questions:

What are the criteria to be used to identify a child labourer on a farm in terms of differentiating between family labour and  agricultural child labour?

Where and who has the authority to draw the lines regarding working conditions, working time, etc., in the case of child labour in agriculture?

How to tackle the cultural issues involved in child labour and trafficking for forced labour, especially caste in India considering that the majority of the child labourers belong to the so-called “lower” castes?

How effective is the enforcement of legislation system in remote rural areas?

Mr Nitte Adyanthaya, a member of the ILO Governing Body and Senior Vice-President of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) emphasised that “By eliminating poverty and providing quality education only then can we end child labour. Ratification of the ILO Conventions 182 on worst forms of child labour and 138 on minimum age of employment must be a priority for India.”  He expressed the view that besides poverty, failure of government’s developmental plans, improper disbursement of funds, lack of proper labour inspection and monitoring agencies, people with immoral and unethical intentions and vested interests and weak legislation are other important factors contributing to the incidence of child labour.

In his intervention to the consultation, Mr Simon Steyne, Head of the Programme Support Unit of the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO-IPEC) pointed out that even household or family child labour could be reduced by the simple act of spreading awareness at village and community levels. He emphasised that child labour in the agricultural sector is a priority for the ILO. He further noted that food security, education and adequate infrastructure are among the essential elements that must be provided to agricultural communities in order to curtail child labour in agriculture and the allied activities sector.

Dr Gavin Linday Wall, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in India and Bhutan, echoed Mr Steyne’s comment on food insecurity as a contributing factor to child labour and emphasised the importance of the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to halve the number of people in hunger worldwide. Working towards the achievement of the MDGs would contribute significantly to the elimination of child labour. He further noted that child labour in agriculture has a negative impact on education and development and underlined the many and significant hazards in agricultural work.

During exchanges at the consultation, it was pointed out that the incidence of child labour is the highest in Africa, whereas South Asia is at the top in terms of actual numbers of child labourers. One-third of child labourers around the world are to be found in the countries, which have not ratified ILO’s child labour conventions 138 and 182. There are a number of factors contributing to child labour in the agricultural sector, all of which will need to be addressed through specific interventions. These include, for example, seasonal migration for work from rural to urban areas; weak institutional capacities; inefficient schools; inappropriate training programmes; lack of political will and a proper agenda to combat child labour. To break the vicious cycle of the child labour phenomenon, integrity and social dialogue are required, underpinned by an improved knowledge base, introduction of more efficient resources, implementation of sustainable and long-term programmes and mainstreaming the issue of child labour across policies, programmes and legislation frameworks.

According to Mr K Marimuttu, Ceylon Workers Union, Sri Lanka, child labour in Sri Lanka is a relatively small development problem in comparison to other south Asian countries. The Sri Lankan parliament has ratified both ILO conventions and the legal agencies are strict on this issue. In addition, ministers and concerned government departments play an active role and there are various bodies active on this issue, such as the national steering committee, state and district-level coordination committees. These work in collaboration with civil society organisations and trade unions. The emphasis in Sri Lanka has been on the fishing and tourism industries.

The situation is less promising in Bangladesh as explained by Dr. Wajedul Islam Khan, Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS). He remarked that despite the country having ratified the ILO’s child labour conventions, the issue remains a significant concern and the prevailing attitude is that child labour in agriculture is not considered harmful. Furthermore, only about 10 per cent of workers are organised by the trade unions in Bangladesh, making child labour difficult to monitor and remediate, especially in agriculture.

From an education perspective, Mr Rampal Singh of the All India Primary Teachers’ Federation (AIPTF) expressed the view that a major cause of child labour was the large number of school drop-outs at an early age. In addition, he noted that the poor quality of education in some areas also contributes to the numbers of children working in the agricultural sector. He highlighted the importance of agricultural child labour being put under the legal purview.

The situation in Nepal, according to Ms Shanti Adhikary of Children-Women in Social Service and Human Rights (CWISH), is that most of the working children in the agricultural sector are bonded labourers. Civil society and trade union organisations are working together on the elimination and prevention of this problem in spite of political instability. This underlines the significant role of civil society and trade unions in any global, regional, national or local response to child labour. She also called for increased investment in the education sector and for regional cooperation in this regard.

One participant was a young Nepali girl, a former child bonded labourer (Kamaiya worker) who worked in the agricultural sector, who said: “How can we speak of technological advancement when child labour is still present?” She urged participants to ensure that all countries join hands and raise a common voice to end child labour. Only in this way could it ever be fully eliminated.

In closing, the speakers and participants of consultation agreed to launch a collective regional campaign to highlight the plight of children working in agriculture and allied activities and promote legislative reforms at regional and national levels to include agriculture and allied activities in the list of hazardous occupations.

The following speakers also addressed the consultation through the various thematic panels that were organised: Mr. Ramdev Prasad, Bihar Child Labour Commission; Mr. Suneet Chopra, Secretary, Bharatiya Khet Mazdoor Union (All India Farm Workers Union), Ms. Anna Minj, BRAC, Bangladesh, Mr. Kishore Kumar Gautam, Nepal Trade Union Congress-Independent (NTUC –I), Mr. Madan Rimal, Farm Workers Association (GEFONT Nepal), Mr. Jamaluddin Ahmed, Bangladesh Manobadhikar Sangbadik Forum (BMSF), Bangladesh, Mr. Kumar Bhattarai, Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) Nepal, Mr. L V Saptarishi, Confederation of NGOs of Rural India (CNRI), India, Ms. Bama Athreya, International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF), USA. In addition, over 170 delegates from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka participated in the consultation.