Rome — Child labour in the livestock sector is widespread and largely ignored, according to FAO, which has released the first global study on child labour issues related to livestock.
The FAO publication, Children's work in the livestock sector: Herding and beyond, points out that agriculture accounts for most of the reported child labour in the world, and livestock accounts for some 40 percent of the agricultural economy. It says efforts to curb child labour will require getting governments, farmer organizations and rural families directly involved in finding alternatives to practices which often reflect the need for survival.
The FAO report sustains that hazardous or potentially harmful work for children in the livestock sector has received less attention than child labour in other areas of agriculture, where much more has been done by international organizations, governments, civil society and rural families to address the problem.
"Reducing child labour in agriculture is not only an issue of human rights, it is also part of the quest for truly sustainable rural development and food security," said Jomo Sundaram, Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Development Department.
"Child labour strikes at the heart of decent employment opportunities for young people, especially when it interferes with their formal schooling," Sundaram added.
"The growing importance of livestock in agriculture means that efforts to reduce child labour will need to focus more on the factors that lead to harmful or hazardous work for children in that sector, while respecting and protecting the livelihoods of poor rural families," Sundaram stressed.
The report is a compilation and analysis of available information retrieved through a literature search and consultation with organizations and experts in livestock and child labour.
The findings of the publication are expected to feed into the 3rd Global Conference on Child Labour, to be held in Brazil in October.
Livestock and livelihoods
Livestock is at least a partial source of income and food security for 70 percent of the world's 880 million rural poor who live on less than $1 a day.
According to the study, many situations categorized by international norms as child labour take place in unregulated, smallholder agriculture.
"For centuries, pastoralist communities have involved their children with the family livestock; the future and survival of the pastoralist family relies on the transfer of complicated local knowledge from parent to child," the study states, adding:
"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."
Children's work in the livestock sector recommends countries and development partners tackle child labour in livestock with:
more research on factors involved in child labour and ways to reduce it
national regulation and policies to improve livelihoods and educational options for families
involvement of producers', employers' and workers' organizations
direct dialogue with and support for vulnerable, rural families
companies in the livestock industry to ensure that child labour is not involved in their supply chains and which support access to alternatives for children and their families
development programs that aim to improve access to school and attendance in rural areas, and which monitor child labour
poverty alleviation strategies that include awareness-building programs on child labour and provide safety nets and other incentives to eliminate child labour practices.
The report also highlights innovative approaches that aim to address barriers to education, specifically, in pastoralist societies; distance learning; mobile schools, including boarding schools; school-feeding programs or cash transfers; pastoralist field schools, and livestock farmer field schools.
"In tackling child labour in pastoralist communities, you need to engage in a dialogue to find solutions that are suitable for their specific socio-cultural situations, and which are built on the support of pastoralist leaders, parents, employers and children. This would allow 'education with identity' and give children better employment prospects, within and beyond the livestock sector," said Rob Vos, Director of the Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division.
The authors recommend working directly with families to build awareness of livestock-related duties that are age-appropriate and otherwise acceptable for children, compared to those tasks which may cause harm to children or interfere with their schooling.
Child labour in herding
A number of country-specific case studies focus on child labour in herding. They show that herding can start at a young age, anywhere between 5 and 7 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.
Depending on their exact duties, children in the livestock sector are at risk of disrupted physical, mental, moral and social development. Working closely with livestock increases the risk of animal-related diseases; direct injury from tools or animal bites; health problems caused by working long hours in extreme weather conditions; poor sanitation and hygiene; injury from chemical products and in some cases, psychological stress resulting from fear of punishment, cattle raiders, or a sense of responsibility for family capital.
Some children working in the livestock sector are also in situations of bonded or forced labour, or have been trafficked.
The study asserts that much more research is needed into the circumstances surrounding child labour in the livestock sector, in order to improve the lives of poor and rural boys and girls.