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Background Note


I. Introduction

According to ILO 215 million children across the world are still trapped in child labour. Agriculture is the sector in which most child labourers work. A number of 115 million children is exposed to hazardous work. 69 per cent of all child labour – about 148 million children – takes place in agriculture, often in hazardous conditions . Besides this, the children are in many instances trafficked and forced labourers. In the preamble of the outcome of the Hague Global Child Labour Conference 2010 – the Roadmap for Achieving The Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour by 2016 – is stated that parties acknowledge that over the last decade the incidence of child labour in agriculture has been the highest. Parties have recognised that political leadership is needed to achieve the elimination of the worst forms of child labour, and that governments in partnership with all other relevant actors need to act swiftly and with determination, particularly in the informal economy where most child labour occurs.

At the Conference in the Hague it was also stated that more data collection covering child labour in agriculture is required. The subject of child labour in agriculture has undergone little systematic analysis. Available information is often vague, incomplete and undated. Children that work in agriculture are often hard to reach. Besides that the work that children in agriculture perform is often invisible, because they assist their parents in task work or other forms of work organisation. Since this work is not recognised, nor easily recorded in statistics, it goes largely unnoticed. This creates a cycle of poverty and effects the future of children since their access to education and training is greatly reduced. 

Given this background, Bachpan Bachao Andolan and Global March Against Child Labour propose to convene a consultation to identify and assess the problem of Child Labour in the Agriculture Sector and to work mutually towards this challenge to eliminate the Child Labour in the Agriculture Sector. The aspiration of the Convention is to form the basis for building a ‘Collective Action Forum’ to devise a strategy to eliminate child labour in agriculture.

Working in Agriculture is ‘harmless’ 
Regarding to child labour in agriculture there is the assumption that children working on farms or in fisheries are at less likely to be at risk than urban workers. However it cannot automatically be assumed that children working on small ‘idyllic family farms’ do not face the risks of chemicals, machinery accidents or the risk that they cut themselves on though stems and on tools they use, or don’t face the risk of facing pesticides, poisonous snakes and insects. Many of these farms are mechanised and make heavy use of pesticides. Children working in these farms face even higher risks as small farms are as likely as commercial enterprises to misuse chemicals through lack of education and training in their handling. It is highly underestimated that agricultural work is extremely hazardous for children.

Forced labour in agriculture
Not only is the work in agriculture often hazardous, child labourers in agriculture are mostly bonded labourers. The child labourers in agriculture are mainly unpaid family workers and partly as forced labour attached to their parents under debt bondage or similar other exploitative labour. Besides this there is forced labour in the commercial agriculture, e.g. forced labour of children in commercial fishing industries.

Child Trafficking and Forced Labour
Trafficking in persons is modern-day slavery. Trafficking of children refers to recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of children for the purpose of exploitation, carried out both within a country and across international borders. As forced labour is all work or service for which the person has not offered himself/herself voluntarily and as children cannot be said to give consent, all work by children falls under the category of forced labour. Child trafficking is one of the worst forms of child labour and the process through which children end up in exploitative situations.

Many industrial and agro-industrial sectors like brick-making, salt manufacture, sugar cane harvesting, stone quarrying, construction, fisheries, plantations, rice mills and so on run largely on migrant labour. Families are forced to leave their homes and villages for several months each year in search for livelihood. It’s common practice among migrant workers to include children as part of a family work unit. In these circumstances children begin to work with their parents from an early age and are unable to attend schools. Migration means dropping out of schools and obstructing children in their development and future.

Drop out from school is also a result of seasonal migration. The migration cycle begins around October-November and lasts for 6 months. It overlaps the school calendar. Children migrating with their parents are only able to go to school from June-November. One of the consequences of children migrating is that their education is disrupted. It’s a huge problem to get migrant children back into school.

Further, migration often means that children are facing hazardous working conditions. The children of migrant workers are often classified as ‘helpers’ though they do similar and as strenuous work as adults. Work done by these children is not recognised, nor easily recorded in statistics, thus it goes largely unnoticed. At present there are huge data gaps regarding to children that migrate for work. A systematic mapping regarding migration, specially seasonal migration, is an urgent need.

Gender: boys and girls in agriculture

The amount of girls working in agriculture is significant higher than the amount of boys. In a lot of sectors girls are preferred to boys. Boys are not so easily available for labour as many of them are going to school. If parents send their children to school, they want to get their sons educated. Girls are supposed to work in the house or on the land. Furthermore girls are more patient and there is the assumption that certain work should only be done by girls/women.

Child Labour laws in agriculture are non-existent or insufficient. Given the geographically dispersed nature of agriculture, public sector labour inspections are often unable to cover even commercial plantations. The inadequacies in legislation, inspection and enforcement mechanisms mean that action is required to abolish child labour in agriculture. Also in this regard mobilisation is essential. Framework agreements could be used in the fight against child labour in agriculture.

II. Child Labour in Agriculture in South Asia
Children in Asia can be found performing all types of farm work. Legislation (international and national) specifically on child labour in agriculture is either non-existent or insufficient.

International and National Legislation

International Legislation
The international community is fighting the practice of child labour. National and international laws make the use of child labour a crime. Nevertheless enforcement is elusive.

International legal instruments
- First Convention on Child Labour, 1919;
- Forced Labour Convention (no. 29), 1930;
- Minimum Age Convention (no. 138), 1973;
- Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (no. 105), 1957;
- Minimum Age Recommendation (no. 146);
- UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989;
- ILO Worst Forms on Child Labour Convention (No. 182);
- Worst Forms on Child Labour Recommendation (no. 190);
- Convention on Safety and Health in Agriculture (no. 184);
- Recommendation on Safety and Health and Agriculture (no. 192), 2001;
- UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, 2003;

US Trade and Development Act and the US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act
The United States Government has played an influential role in promoting anti-trafficking efforts across the globe. In 2006 the US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorisation Act (TVPRA), 2005, came into force. This Act states that the US Bureau of International Affairs has to "carry out additional activities to monitor and combat forced labour and child labour in foreign countries” (Section 105). Among these activities are the monitoring of the use of forced labour and child labour in violation of international standards and the consultation with other departments and agencies of the United States Government to reduce forced and child labour internationally and ensure that products made by forced labour and child labour in violation of international standards are not imported into the United States. The Act can be seen as a follow up of the Trade and Development Act, 2000. The Trade and Development Act improved enforcement of fair trade rules by requiring periodic changes in foreign products subject to US retaliation when a foreign government persists in its failure to comply with international standards.

ILO-IPEC Project: TICSA Project
One of the steps made by ILO-IPEC to combat child trafficking was the TICSA Project, Phase II. This project was launched in October 2002. The project aimed to support the participating countries (Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand, and Indonesia) in taking concerted action at the national and regional levels to combat the problem of trafficking of children and to rehabilitate the survivors of trafficking. The project included expanding the knowledge base on the trafficking situation within the country; building the capacity of government, workers’ and employers’ organizations and NGO’s in the design of anti-trafficking programs, policy and advocacy, and providing direct services to vulnerable children and child victims of trafficking. India did not participate in this project.