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FAO Examines Children's Work in Livestock Sector

12 February 2013

GLOBAL - FAO has published a report entitled 'Children's Work in Livestock Sector: Herding and Beyond', which highlights the number of under 18s working in farming across the world and the consequences for their health and education.

Agriculture is by far the largest sector where child labour is found and one of the most dangerous in terms of fatalities, accidents and occupational diseases, according to the FAO report. Almost 60 per cent of girls and boys (aged 5–17 years) in hazardous work are found in agriculture, historically and traditionally an under-regulated sector and one in which regulation enforcement is also difficult in many countries.

Livestock forms a considerable subsector within agriculture, with global demand for animal products rising. The livestock sector is one of the fastest growing segments of the agricultural economy and contributes 40 per cent of the global value of agricultural output, according to the FAO State of Food and Agriculture report (SOFA, 2009). Furthermore, livestock represents at least a partial source of income and food security for 70 per cent of the world's 880 million rural poor who live on less than US$1.00 a day (Neely et al., 2009). Within rural environments, livestock keeping has historical, cultural and traditional roots, and the involvement of children is very common.

Age-appropriate tasks that do not expose children to conditions that are likely to cause them harm, that do not have negative health or development consequences and do not interfere with a child´s compulsory schooling and leisure time can be a normal part of growing up. Such acceptable work can teach a child certain skills and may have inherent social, educational and cultural value.

However, much of the work children do in the livestock sector can be categorized as child labour: it is likely to be hazardous, to interfere with a child’s education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. This definition is based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and ILO Conventions No. 182 (ILO, 1999) on the worst forms of child labour (including hazardous work) and No. 138 (ILO, 1973) on the minimum age for admission to employment and work. A child is any person under the age of 18.

Poverty remains one of the major causes and consequences of child labour. Many children work for immediate household survival. Other major causes of child labour are those related to education, including lack of access to schools and perceived lack of benefits of education.

Belief systems about the value of children working and of formal education, as well as a lack of knowledge about the possible harm inherent in child labour and missing school, are potential causes of child labour. Demand for child labour can stem from labour market forces and conditions, the need to pay off debt and a preference for children to perform specific activities.

Child labour, through its negative effects on health and education, also contributes to creating or perpetuating situations of poverty.

Addressing child labour in agriculture is difficult due to the specificities of the sector. These include the fact that much of child labour in this sector takes place as unpaid family labour without formal contracts, the continuity that exists between the household and workplace and the tradition of children's participation in agricultural activities.

In addition, agriculture and family undertakings have limited coverage in national labour legislation and there is often a low capacity of labour inspectors to cover remote rural areas.

This explorative desk study aims to give an overview of available data on child labour in the livestock sector and indicate potential avenues for action. By contributing to the knowledge base on this topic, FAO aims to provide a basis for further research and discussion on this topic in order to come to a common understanding of what efforts need to be prioritized and to encourage governments and other stakeholders to address this issue.

Helping children to realize their rights and the reduction of poverty and food insecurity should be complementary goals. This study should contribute to reflection by agricultural, labour and other stakeholders on how to position themselves vis-à-vis the sociocultural issues related to children working with livestock, especially those concerning child herding activities within (nomadic) pastoralist communities.

There is currently little concrete information on child labour in the livestock sector; this has proved a limitation to this study. This was the case both in the literature and with the experts consulted. The lack of knowledge was a constraint to this study but at the same time confirms a strong need for further field research and more age- and sex-disaggregated data collection on child labour in the livestock sector.

The types of child labour in the livestock sector identified in the literature are work activities in poultry, animal traction, animal slaughter and work related to animal husbandry, but mainly general animal care and herding. The United States Department of Labor's List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor (USDOL, 2011) demonstrates that cattle products are among the goods commonly produced with child or forced labour.

While the literature analysed in this study focuses primarily on children herding and caring for livestock (often cattle), this is a reflection of the current scarcity of information on other types of involvement of children in the sector, rather than an indication that child labour is only an issue in herding.

Both girls and boys are involved in livestock activities. In younger age groups, there appears to be little difference in the types of activities boys and girls undertake. As age increases, work activities are often, but not always, differentiated along gender lines.

In the literature encountered, boys were generally more involved with herding activities than girls. Both girls and boys were involved in general livestock care, though there were sometimes gender divisions for specific tasks. In general, girls were more involved with household chores than boys, sometimes in addition to their livestock-related work activities (i.e. a double burden).

In addition to competing demands for time from work, school and household chores, girls sometimes also face additional gender-based barriers to education.

A number of country-specific case studies focused on child labour in herding. From the literature, it appears that herding can start at a young age, anywhere between five and seven years. The working conditions of children herding livestock are very context specific and vary greatly.

Where some children might herd a few hours a week and still go to school, others might herd for days on end, sometimes far from the home, and with no possibility for schooling. Furthermore, there is variation in the conditions under which children work (e.g. climate, levels of isolation and loneliness, physical and mental burden, dangerous environments).

The conditions of employment or working contracts are not uniform. Children typically herd either for an employer or (unpaid) for their own household or relatives. If contracts do exist, they are usually verbal agreements. Children who work for others may be paid in cash or kind. Child herders working outside the household are vulnerable to exploitation by employers and to bonded or forced labour due to indebtedness (also that of parents under systems of intergenerational bonded labour). Of particular concern is the fact that some children are trafficked within and outside country borders for (forced) herding activities.

This study urges a careful assessment of children herding livestock, especially within (nomadic) pastoralist communities where children have commonly been actively involved in livestock responsibilities from an early age. It also recommends a more general assessment of children involved in all subsectors of livestock work.

In households restricted by lack of financial resources, individual needs or rights are often subordinate to the direct needs of the household. When introducing internationally defined norms, it is important to acknowledge the existence of cultural norms, traditions and aspirations. Taking this into account, agricultural and labour stakeholders can contribute to addressing child labour in the livestock sector by taking the physical and mental health of children as a point of departure, recognizing that children have specific characteristics and needs when it comes to their physical, cognitive, behavioural and emotional development.

It is essential to ascertain what the communities themselves consider important, while making them aware that herding and other livestock-related activities can be harmful to a child’s development, and to then work together to find where a balance can be created between safe work activities and children’s education.

There are strong signals that pastoralist communities recognize the importance of education for their children and very much appreciate sending their children to school if the education is of a good level and relevant to the pastoral way of life, and especially if schooling can be combined with child work in the herd. The possibility of schooling leading to economic diversification of the pastoral livelihood appeals to many of these communities.

In many situations, the nature of the work of children in the livestock sector makes it difficult for children to attend formal school, or the hazards and conditions involved make it a worst form of child labour. This is both a violation of human rights and an impediment to the sustainable development of the agricultural sector and food security.

Children working in the livestock sector, depending on their exact duties, are at risk of disrupted physical, mental, moral and social development. Working closely with livestock carries inherent risks of animal-related diseases, especially in situations without clear boundaries between working and living conditions; of health problems caused by working long hours in extreme weather conditions, poor sanitation and hygiene, using chemical products (e.g. disinfectants to treat animals) and inhaling (livestock) dust; as well as psychological stress resulting from fear of punishment from employers, fear of cattle raiders or a feeling of responsibility for the family capital.

In addition, there are direct risks of injury when handling animals and sharp tools used in livestock work activities. Risks include being bitten (also by wild animals and insects), gored, kicked, stamped on; being abused by employers; and musculoskeletal disorders. Some children working in the livestock sector are also in situations of bonded or forced labour, or have been trafficked, concludes the summary of the FAO report.

You can view the full report from FAO by clicking here.

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