UN agencies highlight problem of child labour in fisheries

Child worker drying fish in the sun to preserve them.

10 May 2010 – The plight of child workers in fisheries largely goes unnoticed because data on the issue is not readily available, a group of experts brought together by the United Nations has warned, saying possible solutions to the problem will be unveiled at a forum that opened in The Hague today.

“Worldwide, 132 million girls and boys aged 5 to 14 years old work in agriculture – this figure includes children working in fisheries and aquaculture,” said Rolf Willmann of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.

“But because child labour in fisheries is so widely dispersed in small-scale and family enterprises – or is actively hidden by employers – it is difficult to obtain hard data on the true extent of the problem. This makes it difficult for many policy-makers to tackle it,” he added.

To address information gaps, FAO, in cooperation with the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), recently convened a workshop of international experts to share information and come up with policy recommendations specific to child labour in fisheries.

They include legal measures and enforcement, policy interventions, including education, development and livelihoods support, and better data collection to close information gaps.

FAO will present these recommendations at the two-day global conference on child labour in The Hague, organized by the Dutch Government in cooperation with the ILO.

According to FAO, fishing is possibly one of the most hazardous occupations in the world, and while child labour in fisheries occurs in all regions, it is most widespread in Africa and Asia.

Children engage in activities that range from active fishing, cooking on boats, diving for reef fish or to free snagged nets, herding fish into nets, peeling shrimp or cleaning fish and crabs, repairing nets, sorting, unloading, and transporting catches, and processing or selling fish.

Participants in the workshop said that child labour was most common in small-scale, non-industrial fishing.

Children in fisheries can find themselves in a variety of circumstances, from helping their families to forced servitude, according to a paper presented at the workshop by the World Fish Centre. At the worst end of the spectrum are cases of child trafficking, the paper noted.

“Child labour often reinforces a vicious cycle of poverty, has a negative impact on literacy rates and school attendance and limits children’s mental and physical health and development,” according to Mr. Willmann.


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