Child Work, Child Labour

Child Work, Child Labour

1 in 10 children worldwide are in child labour, putting their health, safety, education or development at risk, often to support themselves and their families. 71% of child labour is in agriculture, most of which is hazardous

What is child labour?

Child labour is work that is harmful to children. Not all work done by children under the age of 18 is child labour. There are many factors to take into account:

According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the most widely accepted international human rights treaty in history, "children have the right to be protected from work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development."

Some light work may be done by children between 13 and 15 years old so long as it is not dangerous or interfering with their education. The ILO says that this “can be a normal part of growing up in a rural environment”. Helping around the house, in a safe way that does not prevent children from going to school or developing, can also be an important part of childhood.

Acceptable Work for Children

It’s important to support farmers and families, so they can distinguish between child labour and appropriate child work. When working with farmers and families in ECLT project countries, the Foundation often discusses questions with parents and farmers to help determine if the work is acceptable. Some of these questions include:

  • Would this work take up too much time and prevent the child from going to school?
  • Would this work make the child too tired to go to school or do homework?
  • Would the child still have time to play and participate in social/family activities?
  • How does the child feel emotionally while doing the work? Does any part of the work make the child feel unsafe, excluded or threatened?
  • How does the child feel physically while doing the work? After doing the work?
  • Does this work involve using or being around chemicals, like fertilisers, heavy machinery or sharp tools?
  • Is any part of this work illegal?

The Worst Forms of Child Labour

Slavery, child trafficking, debt bondage, forced labour, children in armed conflict, and children working in illegal activities are considered to be some of the worst forms of child labour. Hazardous work is also one of the worst forms of child labour. It should not be done any child under 18 years old, even if he or she is over the legal minimum working age.

Child labour which is considered hazardous “is work that is performed by children in dangerous and unhealthy conditions" (ILO). This means that the work is unsafe by nature, and inappropriate for children under 18 years-old regardless of the conditions or the safety equipment. Some examples of work that is hazardous by nature include handling dangerous chemicals or operating heavy machinery.

What causes child labour?

Child labour is a complex and systemic problem. It is impossible to point to one single cause. Poverty, natural disasters, conflict, lack of quality education, remoteness and tradition are some of the most common push factors, driving children into child labour.

Most child labour in agriculture is on family farms, with children working alongside their parents. If farmers are not able to send their children to school or hire adult workers, they often have their children work with them. Farmers may not be aware of the risks that child labour poses to their children, leading to negative consequences on their health and futures.

What are the consequences of child labour?

Being involved in child labour can have physical, mental, developmental and economic effects on children and their families. Children who work in agriculture can be injured from using dangerous equipment without proper health and safety, experience back problems from carrying heavy loads, suffer from a mental delay from being exposed to pesticides and fertilisers, be vulnerable to parasites or dangerous reptiles by working barefoot in fields.

Often the effects of child labour are carried through to adulthood: poor health and low literacy rates make it harder for ex-child labourers to access decent work and a better livelihood. As poverty is the driver of child labour, adults who were involved in child labour are more likely to send their children into the fields to work help feed, shelter and clothe their families.

What can be done?

Tackling the root causes of child labour by improving awareness, health and safety in the work place, quality education, livelihoods, and access to decent work; plays a crucial role in the fight against child labour. The ILO stated that “Rather than focus specifically on supply chains, area-based approaches address factors driving all types of child labour in a given geographic area. This broader approach helps prevent children simply moving from one supply chain to another, or into a more hidden form of child labour”.

To do this ECLT works to ensure that all of our projects work with children, farmers, families and communities. We support activities focused on: raising awareness on child labour and the dangers it poses to children; building capacities in communities to improve family livelihoods; and increasing access to quality education and skills training for children and youth.

Engaging many stakeholders helps to make sustainable change. ECLT works in collaboration with governments, companies, Unions, NGOs, community leaders and children themselves. This helps to change attidudes, leverage resources and support strong policies and practices so that our work goes beyond our project areas benefit all children and families in the countries where we work.

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