Prevalence and impacts of child labour in agriculture

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Helpdesk Query:

Where is child labour in agriculture most prevalent and what are the impacts of this labour on children? This query will identify and summarise evidence on:

  • Where is the biggest issue of child labour in agriculture? Which countries? Which supply chains? Which farm structures?
  • How are gender roles and age differences reflected in the understanding about child labour in agriculture and supply chains?
  • Do any other features of marginalisation stand out in the literature e.g. caste, household income?
  • In what situations is child work/labour in agriculture/agricultural supply chains most harmful and dangerous?
  • In what contexts might child work in agriculture/agricultural supply chains lead to beneficial outcomes such as learning new skills etc.?

This exploratory rapid review finds that child labour in agriculture is a global issue, with the agricultural sector accounting for the majority of child labourers. Across regions and countries agriculture is usually the main sector for children’s economic activity. However, there is considerable variation in the prevalence of child labour between and within countries. Agricultural child labour is mainly unpaid work on smallholder family farms, but is also found on commercial farms and plantations as well as through forced and trafficked child labour. Child labour is involved in crop production, livestock (including herding) and forestry as well as fishing and aquaculture.

There are more boys than girls in agricultural child labour, and both tend to start young, sometimes before 10 years old. Girls tend to combine agricultural and domestic duties, and their work is more invisible, while male adolescents are more likely to be in hazardous work in agriculture than their female peers. Children from poor households, ethnic minorities, migrants and families with HIV/AIDS or disabled members are particularly vulnerable to agricultural child labour.

Other drivers include agricultural dependency, social norms and a lack of higher returns to basic schooling. Almost 60 per cent of girls and boys (aged 5–17 years) in hazardous work are found in agriculture. Situations of heightened harm and danger include forced and trafficked child labour for agriculture as well as conflict and emergency situations. Nevertheless age-appropriate tasks can contribute to children’s well-being and development – in particular in rural contexts with a lack of returns to formal education, labour-intensive agricultural livelihoods and social acceptance of child labour.

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