(New York, June 11, 2002) Children who work in agriculture are not getting enough attention in global efforts to end child labor, Human Rights Watch said on the eve of the first "World Day against Child Labor.
Some 170 million children around the world work in agriculture, making up 70 percent of all child laborers. Human Rights Watch investigations in Egypt, Ecuador, India and the United States have found that child agricultural workers frequently work under dangerous and grueling conditions.
"Children working in agriculture far outnumber the kids weaving carpets and stitching soccer balls, who get most of the media attention," said Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. She said children working in agriculture spend long hours in scorching heat, are exposed to toxic pesticides, and suffer high rates of injury.
Human Rights Watch has investigated conditions for children working in Egypt's cotton industry, Ecuador's banana sector, and U.S. commercial agriculture, as well as children who have been bonded into agricultural labor in India. In each country, children frequently earn wages far below the legal minimum, and significantly less than their adult counterparts.
In a new briefing paper released today, Human Rights Watch documents how child agricultural workers may begin working as early as age eight or ten. They commonly work eleven or twelve hours a day, often beginning before dawn. Children in India may work as many as sixteen or seventeen hours a day.
Exposure to pesticides poses one of the greatest threats to the health of child agricultural workers. In the United States, Egypt and Ecuador, children interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported repeated exposure, including working in fields while they were being sprayed. They suffered symptoms of pesticide exposure including headaches, dizziness, rashes, nausea and vomiting. Long-term effects can include cancer, brain damage, birth defects and sterility.
Child agricultural workers suffer high rates of injury from working with sharp tools and heavy equipment. In the United States, child farmworkers account for only 8% of working children, but 40% of all work-related fatalities among minors.
The long hours worked by children in agriculture have severe consequences for their education. In Ecuador, the majority of child banana workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch had quit school before the age of fifteen. In the United States, only 55% of farmworker children ever finish high school. In India, many bonded child laborers working in agriculture have never attended school.
Human Rights Watch urged governments and employers to develop strategies to eliminate harmful child labor in agriculture. The place to start is ensuring compliance with the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, and explicitly prohibiting all individuals under the age of eighteen from using dangerous tools, hauling heavy loads, working excessive hours, and being exposed to pesticides in the workplace.
Human Rights Watch urged corporations to demand that children's rights be respected in their fields and facilities and those of their suppliers, and to adopt effective monitoring systems to verify compliance with this requirement.