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Session Brief

Session 1: Setting the stage – child labour and trafficking in the field, farms and allied activities


Objective: To understand the extent and nature of child labour and trafficking in agriculture and allied activities.
Expected outcomes: A consensus on the situation; which can lead to an action agenda.
Chair: Mr. Amod Kanth, Chairperson, Delhi Commission for Pretection of Child Rights
Moderator: Prof. Bhupinder Zutshi, Jawaharlal Nehru University
When we talk of agriculture, we mainly imagine large tracts of land being ploughed in villages and outskirts of feeder towns. We don’t think that agricultural activities extend beyond farmlands. But that is not so.

“Agriculture” covers different types of farming activities, such as crop production, horticultural/fruit production, animal husbandry, dairying, forestry activities, fish farming, poultry, bee keeping, among others. It also includes many activities associated with farming: the processing of agricultural and animal products, storage of crops, pest management, irrigation, domestic tasks like fetching water, firewood. It also involves use and maintenance of machinery, equipment, appliances and tools. It can include any process, operation, transport or storage directly related to agricultural production, for instance storage in silos, warehouses etc. This should be considered as a working definition of agriculture and not exclusive. (Source: Adapted from ILO’s definition of agriculture)

Having defined agriculture, the first session aims to generate discussion on the following:

Understanding the nature and extent of child labour:  It is a well known fact mentioned in almost every child labour statistic that agriculture is the largest employer of children. Children are engaged in any one or multiple activities among the ones mentioned above. It is necessary to understand the nature of their work, which alone can determine the hazards involved and the effect upon their physical, mental and academic development. 

Identifying where child labour is present- geographical as well as crop-wise demarcation: What are the agricultural areas where work on child labour is already on-going? Some of the popular ones are Bt Cotton, tea, fisheries, tendu leaves (raw material for tobacco). Besides these, are there any other crops where interventions are being made? What is the nature of those interventions? What about allied activities? Certain fisheries activities are banned in all the five South Asian countries. Besides these crops, child labour can also be found in other crops grown across the South Asian countries in small farms or in commercial farms. These need to be identified and children withdrawn.

Understanding and identifying the causes of child labour in agriculture: Understanding the causes will help devise methods of elimination/prevention. Some of the main causes are

Poverty: It is a cause of child labour, but it cannot be an excuse to continue the practice. There are many ramifications of poverty. While poverty might directly result in children being employed in local farms, it can also cause trafficking and debt-bondage of children to work in fields and allied activities in other states or in the same village too. The situation of trafficking within the 5 countries and from one country to another; and the probability and extent of children engaged in diving in the coastal areas of South India, the agricultural lands of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar need to be noted.

Children are a cheap source of labour: children are not only a cheap source of labour, but also don’t know or don’t demand for their rights. This makes them an ideal labour, especially to earn higher margins on their produce.

Minimum wages for the adults: If the minimum wages are not given to adult workers, chances are that their children will end up becoming child labourers. Also, the fact that adults are not being given minimum wages means that the employer is cutting corners, and hence he/she may flout the laws to engage child labourers.

Cultural or family tradition: There is large scale cultural acceptance of children accompanying their parents into fields and giving a ‘helping hand’. But the activities are arduous and continue for long hours.

Lack of comprehensive laws and proper implementation: Though there are laws to prevent child labour in certain activities are present, their implementation is a big question. In addition, we need to start a discussion on whether there should be a blanket ban on child labour in agriculture. It is not a matter of ideology, but a matter of necessity, as the MDGs on Education for all and the Right to Education Act point out. If the largest sector employing child labour doesn’t have a complete ban, how will we achieve education for all is a question for all of us.

Lack of education: Given the proper conditions, every parent wants his/her child to be in school. Lack of proper schools, proper infrastructure, proper teachers, and lack of interest among teachers are some of the common reasons that lead to children either never attending school or dropping out from school. 

The growing retail nature of agricultural marketing: Recently, in India at least, there is a growing trend of business houses opening retail outlets that source directly from farmers. One lesson that India and other countries need to learn from European countries is that such a practice led to putting pressure on farmers for keep the prices low, which in turn led to child labour (Source: Tackling hazardous child labour in agriculture, guidelines on policy and practice). Since this phenomenon is still a new one in India, it should be checked, identified and nipped in the bud.

Education and its access to children engaged in or potential for becoming child labourers in agriculture: While lack of education is a cause of child labour, it is also a consequence and effect of child labour. Also, education by itself is the single most important tool of growth that can be given to children for taking them out of the rut of poverty and better their lives. Current education levels among children engaged in agriculture and allied activities, the reasons for discontinuing if they have discontinued, or means of inculcating interest and access to education could be some of the main points for discussion. Access to education should be done with the objective of removing the children from labour situations and not with the aim of providing education while keeping them employed.

The speakers and participants can make use of these pointers to elaborate their points. This list is not exhaustive and other points can be added to it. A list of hazardous activities in the five South Asian countries is also given below:

A list of hazardous activities under the laws of the 5 countries is as follows:

Bangladesh: The law governing child labour is the Children Act (1974) (art. 44) and the Children Rules (1976); There is also a statute regarding certain sectors, one of them being child labour in tea gardens.
But child labour is present in tea and tobacco and in the fishing industry.

India: The law governing child labour defines hazardous occupations and processes where child labour is banned. 
Hazardous occupation: diving,
Hazardous processes:

Cashew and cashewnut descaling and processing,

Manufacturing or handling of pesticides and insecticides-

Processes in agriculture where tractors, threshing and harvesting machines are used and chaff cutting.

Sericulture processing,

Tobacco processing including manufacturing of tobacco, tobacco paste and handling of tobacco in any form.

Food processing,

Warehousing (child labour in cold storages, or food godowns and silos for ex.)

Use of machinery

Nepal: The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1999; Kamaiya Labour Prohibition Act, 2001 are the laws related to child labour in Nepal.
Child labour in Nepal is present in food and dairy industry and in plantations like tea, tobacco and sugar cane.

Pakistan: The Employment of Children Act (“ECA”), 1991; The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1992 are the laws that govern child labour in Pakistan.  Children are reported to be working in the food industry, family farms and the fishing industry, in Pakistan

Sri Lanka: Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act, 1956 (amendment 2003) is the relevant law on child labour in Sri Lanka.  Though little data is available on child labour in Sri Lanka, children are reported to work on family farms, in the fishing industry and tea plantations.

Session 2: Case studies – Lessons learnt and good practices from the countries

Objective: To identify and understand the interventions on child labour in agriculture and allied activities in all five participating South Asian countries, map the good practices and lessons to be learnt, and check for their replicability for the rest of the sector.

Expected outcome: Identify a few sectors within agriculture and draw up a rough plan of action for implementing these practices in these sectors.

Chair: Mr. U Saratchandran, Member Secretary, National Legal Services Authority

Moderator: Mr. Reni Jacob, WorldVision

Several organisations in South Asia have programmes on child labour in agriculture, ex. Bt Cotton, tea plantations, tendu leaves. One prominent example from Africa is cocoa in Ghana. For the purpose of this session, we can divide the case studies into two categories: interventions in South Asia, and interventions in the rest of the world.

Organisations with research of extent of child labour, the reasons thereof, the strategy and tactics employed, monitoring of child labour in the sector, the acceptability of the interventions with the community and especially the families employing child labour, would share their experiences- success stories as well as lessons learnt. Any good practices related to access to education or innovative methods of education to the withdrawn child labourers also would be highlighted.

ILO has conducted several studies of child labour in agriculture through it IPEC programme in other countries. Wherever relevant, these experiences need to be studied and applied within the South Asian context. Another initiative that is of importance for all organisations is the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development initiative by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Labor Organization (ILO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Union of Food (IUF), International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and World Food Program (WFP). This initiative covers several aspects of agriculture and various points of intervention- sustainable development, agricultural workers, children and youth, good agricultural practices, migration etc. which need to be studied and understood. The partners from ILO, FAO and others are requested to highlight their experiences in these matters.

A session on good practices must not only highlight the practices that are already being employed but must also facilitate the indicators that determine a good practice, which can be done according to the problems that need to be addressed. There are several myths and practices that perpetuate child labour in agriculture. Good practices should provide answers to these practices which are as follows:

Children are required to work for the family to sustain itself. The family receives little wages, so children have to work for the family to earn enough to eat.

Problems to be addressed: employment to all able-bodied adults and minimum wages to adults

What is the use of education for the child, if s/he comes to the field, s/he will gain a skill. Ultimately, they have to become farmers.

Problems to be addressed: behaviour change towards education; and create agriculture friendly education (because mostly education these days promotes a white collar job)

Children must accompany their parents to fields, else they have nowhere else to stay: This is more often the case where the entire family has migrated and is working in a farmland. While accompanying their parents, children take up work eventually and become child labourers.

Problems to be addressed: identifying the nature of migration- whether it is actually migration or trafficking or bonded/forced labour; ensuring the rights of migrants (in case the migrants are from within the country), provision of schooling for the migrant labourers’ families; withdrawal of child labourers/bonded labourers from the fields in case they are trafficked; ensuring minimum wages to the farmers.

Migration/trafficking due to natural disaster. Families leave en masse.

Problems to be addressed: addressing trafficking in disaster management solutions, the extent of trafficked child labour in agriculture (due to a natural disaster)

Gender discrimination: Girls have to perform all household chores along with farm activities, else what will she do? What’s the use of education for her?

Problems to be addressed: gender discrimination, persuasion of parents to bring about behaviour change among families

Globalisation and privatisation are changing the nature of farming. There is a trend towards retailing where business houses are tying up directly with farmers, but farmers are not getting the benefit they should be getting

Problems to be addressed: firstly, recognise the matter as important and needing intervention; create a system where the farmers are as benefited as consumers and retailers, to ensure that children are not employed.

The above are only a few of the issues raised. Speakers might come up examples of the practices mentioned above or with other different practices that they have come across through their work.

Session 3: Way Forward

Dr. Gavin Linday Wall, Director, FAO 
Mr. Ram Dayal Munda, MP, National Advisory Council
Dr. Shantha Sinha, Chairperson, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)
Guest of Honour: Ms. Agatha Sangma, Minister of State for Rural Development  
Chief Guest: Justice Mr. M.K.Sarma, Supreme Court of India
Way forward: Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson, Global March Against Child Labour

The findings from both the sessions will set the tone for the future procedures. As set forth in the objective of consultation, BBA and Global March would like to propose a ‘Collective Action Forum’ of the civil society to firm up the discussions on policy, practice and action to make eradication of child labour in agriculture in South Asia a reality. This forum will then determine the concrete steps of action that need to be taken.

Some of the main issues that they could work on are as follows:

Since the extent of the problem is not known, conduct a survey on child labour in agriculture in the principal crops of the countries and knowledge of child labour in certain locations into account

Large scale advocacy to generate awareness among victims and their families, bring about behaviour change among them, sensitising the commercial farming entities to adopt child labour free practices, and consumer awareness regarding child labour in agriculture to demand for child labour free agricultural products

  Engage all stakeholders to come up with sustainable agricultural practices minus child labourers.