Windhoek — Child labour in the livestock sector is widespread and largely ignored, says a newly released report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
The report asks countries, along with development partners, to tackle child labour with more research on factors involved in child labour, and national regulation and policies to improve the livelihoods and educational options for families. The other recommendations include more involvement with producer, employer and workers' organisations and direct dialogue to increase support for vulnerable, rural families.
"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 of FAO.
According to the FAO report 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 organisations, governments, civil society and rural families to address the problem. It relies on country-specific case studies that have shown that child labour in herding starts at a young age, anywhere between the age of 5 and 7 years.
It found that the working conditions of children herding livestock are very context specific and vary greatly, with some children herding a few hours a week and still go to school, while others herd for days on end, sometimes far from the home, and with no possibility for schooling. The findings of the study are expected to feed into the 3rd Global Conference on Child Labour, to be held in Brazil in October.
"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," the report says.
Some children working in the livestock sector are also in situations of bonded or forced labour, or have been trafficked, it added. 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 programmes or cash transfers; pastoralist field schools, and livestock farmer field schools.
"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. Child labour strikes at the heart of decent employment opportunities for young people, especially when it interferes with their formal schooling," said Jomo Sundaram, Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Development Department.
"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.