Bernd Seiffert, FAO’s focal point for child labour in agriculture, explains what child labour means for girls and boys in the fisheries and aquaculture sector and how it can be eliminated.
What are some of the tasks boys and girls undertake in fisheries that can be labelled ‘child labour’?
According to the ILO, fishing at sea is probably the most dangerous occupation in the world.
The type of work boys and girls do varies from situation to situation but, in general, boys are more often involved in fishing out at sea on fishing vessels. Some of the dangers are night fishing and diving, where children run the risk of drowning and other injuries.
Girls are more often involved in processing fish, frequently being exposed, for example, to smoke inhalation.
Boys and girls help build fishing boats, and this often exposes them to dust, sawdust, chemicals and loud noises, not to mention the fact that they also use dangerous tools.
What are some of the consequences for boys and girls working as child labourers?
Exposure to hazards on the job can lead to injuries, physical exhaustion and diseases. Child labourers can also experience harassment and violence. All this can result in permanent disabilities or psychological damage. Some health problems or disabilities appear later in life. For example, children who carry heavy loads often develop musculoskeletal problems in adulthood, others exposed to toxic chemicals develop cancer.
Besides the physical and psychological effects, men and women who worked as child labourers have a low probability of finding decent work. Their limited education prevents them from getting decent wage jobs as adults. For example, interviews with young fishermen at Lake Malawi found that several who had started working on boats as young water bailers without finishing primary school education, later wanted to work on the business side of the sector but couldn’t since they weren’t able to read or write.
The consequences of little or no education are dire for boys and girls. We know that girls’ education has a direct impact on nutrition and health outcomes and can over time decrease infant, child and maternal mortality rates. Education can also help to protect against HIV and AIDS.
Are there statistics on child labour in fisheries?
We know that sixty per cent of the world’s child labourers work in agriculture as a whole, but a breakdown by subsector is not available, though badly needed so policy makers can take informed decisions.
Why are parents sending their sons and daughters to work in this sector?
There are many reasons, depending on the specific context, but the main one is poverty. Some parents rely on the entire family’s help to meet their basic needs.
Fisheries and aquaculture are attractive sectors, as they offer a chance to make quick money.
Another reason is cultural attitudes in remote fishing communities. In many communities, there is a low level of awareness of what constitutes child labour as opposed to legally acceptable work. In some cases, the quality of education may not be seen as relevant and useful and in other cases there may be no schools or parents may not be able to afford the cost of schooling.
What is FAO doing to improve the situation?
FAO and ILO have supported government officials, agricultural and other organizations in Malawi, for example, to develop a rich national framework for action to end child labour in agriculture, which includes fisheries.
The framework for action is a strategy that calls for various ministries and civil society groups to each do their part in eliminating the root causes and to take up preventive measures to end child labour. For example, it calls for improvements in the agricultural sector to reduce the demand for child labour - decent working conditions and wages for workers, the sustainable management of natural resources and more labour-saving technologies. It urges more investments in education, school feeding programmes and other incentives, so parents can send their sons and daughters to school. The strategy also reaches the grassroots level, pressing local communities to take part in child labour monitoring systems and spread the word about the harm caused by young children working in hazardous conditions.
In Cambodia, where a lot of families struggle to obtain enough food and money to send their children to school, FAO and ILO supported the development of a strategy to end child labour in fisheries and training of Fisheries Administration officials.
Essentially, Cambodia is trying to eliminate what’s driving children into hazardous fisheries work and what’s causing fisheries to use inexpensive labour. They decided to include child labour concerns in the 10-year Strategic Planning Framework for Fisheries and the Cambodia Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and other laws and policies.
The Community Fisheries organizations themselves are reinforcing Cambodia’s strategy to eliminate child labour in the sector. In their plans to ensure that small-scale fisherfolk can make a decent living in the future, they call for creating a community fisheries fund that includes the prevention of child labour as one of the criteria for determining who can borrow money.
What needs to be done to end child labour?
Child labour can only end if government officials, development partners, the private sector, fishers’ organizations and fishing communities work together. The issues of poverty, food security and child labour must all be addressed through coherent policies that are socially and environmentally sustainable.
Preventing child labour entails enabling girls and boys to attend school and grow up healthy with good work prospects.
Parents and fishers have to understand the dangers and the potential damage such work can do to children, the sector, the environment and the economy. That way, local communities can work with governments to choose and apply solutions that best respond to their needs.
To this end, FAO and ILO have produced a publication, “Guidance on addressing child labour in fisheries and aquaculture,” explaining how to prevent, protect and withdraw girls and boys from child labour.