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Child Labour An Important Issue in Fisheries and Aquaculture

Sustainability Politics

Child labour is a great concern in many parts of the world. In 2008, some60 percent of the 215 million boys and girls estimated to be child labourers worldwide were engaged in the agriculture sector, including in fisheries, aquaculture, livestock and forestry, according to report in the FAO's "The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012" report.


In addition to work interfering with schooling and harming personal development in other ways, many of these children work in hazardous occupations or activities that threaten their health and sometimes their lives. They do work that they should not do according to international conventions and/or national legislation, and this situation endangers not only the children themselves but also efforts at poverty alleviation and sustainable development in a larger sense for their families and communities.

However, tackling child labour is no easy task. The occurrence of child labour is entwined in poverty and social injustices and cannot be addressed in isolation. Moreover, some types of work are not harmful but can even be beneficial for children. While it may be relatively easy to identify and agree to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, the distinction between acceptable work and harmful labour is not always clear and assessments can be muddled by local and traditional practices and beliefs. There is a need to exercise due care in analysing existing situations, in applying existing conventions, legislation and guidelines, and in raising the awareness and understanding of child labour issues in order to ensure that they are directly addressed as well as integrated into broader policies and programmes. Improvements have proved possible and the overall number of child labourers in the world has declined since 2000.

Information on child labour in fisheries and aquaculture is limited, and data on agriculture child labour are not generally disaggregated by subsector. Nevertheless, case studies and specific surveys indicate that the numbers are important. Child labour is particularly common in the smallscale informal sector, and children work in a large variety of activities, as part of family enterprises, as unpaid family workers or employed by others. They are found, for example, working on board fishing vessels, preparing nets and baits, feeding and harvesting fish in aquaculture ponds, and sorting, processing and selling fish.

A number of factors influence whether a task should be considered acceptable work, child labour or worst form of child labour. With the support of initiatives such as the global International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture, launched by key international agricultural organizations in 2007,2 the knowledge base and guidance on how to classify and tackle child labour in agriculture have improved in the last decade. However, there is still an urgent need to learn more about child labour also in fisheries and aquaculture and to address the specific situations.

In April 2010, FAO, in cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO), organized a workshop to generate inputs and guidance to the contents and process of developing guidance materials on policy and practice in tackling child labour in fisheries and aquaculture. In order to promote awareness on and effective implementation of the relevant UN and ILO conventions on child labour and the rights of the child, the workshop participants:

  • reviewed the nature, incidence and causes of child labour in fisheries, fish processing and aquaculture;
  • examined the different forms and types of child labour in large-scale, small-scale and artisanal fishing operations, shellfish gathering, aquaculture, seafood processing, and work onboard fishing vessels and fishing platforms;
  • examined the health and safety hazards of fishing and aquaculture, including the use of hazardous technologies and relevant alternatives;
  • shared examples of good practice in the progressive elimination of child labour drawn from various sectors and regions.

The workshop participants agreed on a series of recommendations relating to legal and enforcement measures, policy interventions and practical actions, including risk assessments, to address child labour issues in fisheries and aquaculture. FAO and ILO were called upon for priority actions to assist governments in withdrawing trafficked children and to effectively prohibit slavery and forced labour. The workshop participants also prioritized awareness raising among all stakeholders and the preparation of guidance materials. In addition, they stressed the need to consider gender issues in all actions and to address adequately issues relating to discrimination and exclusion of fishing communities, castes, tribal and indigenous peoples, and ethnic minorities in fisheries and aquaculture.

FAO and ILO are collaborating in helping to assess and address child labour issues in countries such as Cambodia and Malawi. They have also produced a preliminary version of a good practice guide for addressing child labour in fisheries and aquaculture.

August 2012