“Children have the right to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing hazardous work.”
(1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 32)
Tobacco is a major cash crop grown in over 100 countries and requires more than 33 million workers at farm level. As in other agricultural sectors, tobacco-growing is not exempt from the phenomenon of child labour, particularly in the poorer areas; often the whole family is involved in the cultivation and harvesting process.
There are more than 70% of 250 million child labourers worldwide engaged in agriculture. Rural children, in particular girls, tend to become economically active at an early age.
Child labour needs, however, be distinguished from child 'chores'. Especially in countries or areas where agriculture is predominant and there are few or no alternative choices of employment, children frequently carry out minor chores to help their parents, while simultaneously acquiring the agricultural know-how that will one day ensure their own subsistence.
Labouring children, on the other hand, are not only exposed to health risks associated with rural poverty but also to those associated with agricultural work: There may be poor sanitary conditions, exposure to toxic pesticides, a high rate of occupational injuries, extreme weather conditions, and long hours of work and ensuing fatigue.
Overall, working children are ...
- ... denied their human rights;
- ... deprived of their childhood;
- ... deprived of their right to health, safety;
- ... denied a decent future.
The challenge to eliminate child labour is particularly difficult in the LDCs due to wide-spread poverty; The worsening economic and social conditions in which families live and the poor performance of the education system force small-holder farmers to involve their children in their own economic activities.
However, there are many factors that conspire to drive children into employment, none of which is unique to any one country or any one family's circumstances:
- Poverty. Plantation workers and small-holder farmers are often forced to use their own children to supplement very low wages.
- Lack of awareness and long-standing traditions and perceptions: Parents often prefer the short-term gains of putting their children to work over the long-term gains of putting them in school. When children are sent to school, preference is frequently given to the education of boys;
- Lack of an appropriate legislation and effective means of law enforcement;
- Lack of an efficient schooling system;
- Inability of rural families to pay for indirect costs linked to attending schools (fees, transportation, books, uniforms);
- HIV / AIDS. AIDS orphans or children whose families have been devastated by this disease are forced to become their own breadwinners.
In the light of this reality, the ITGA decided to take an active part in the challenge of eliminating child labour in the tobacco growing sector as to ensure that children are granted the opportunity to succeed in all aspects of life.
The ITGA defends that…
- ... all children have the right to schooling, a full family life and a safe and healthy upbringing;
- … children under the minimum legal age should not be employed in the production of tobacco leaf;
- … as many tobacco enterprises are family-run, it may be possible that children take part in routine chores as part of family life for the development of craft skills. This must not extend to potentially hazardous tasks using machinery and agro-chemicals and must not impede school attendance.