Child labour in agriculture is on the rise

Child labour on the rise.
Written by Thabo Molelekwa

Child labour in agriculture is currently on the rise all around the world, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that the trend is undermining efforts to end hunger and poverty.

After years of steady decline, child labour in agriculture has started to rise again in recent years- driven in part by an increase in conflicts and climate-induced disasters. This worrisome trend not only threatens the wellbeing of millions of children, but also undermines efforts to end global hunger and poverty according to the FAO.

The number of child labourers in agriculture worldwide has increased substantially from 98-million to 108-million since 2012, after more than a decade of continuous decline according to the latest estimates.

In his research paper, which highlights the Impact of child labour in agricultural sectors in the Vhembe region, Advocate Moses Masindi of the Polokwane Society of Advocates says “South Africa, like the rest of Africa, continues to grapple with the child labour conundrum.”

Speaking to Health-e News, Masindi said “In Levubu farms (Limpopo) I have found that children who attend school and work are often too tired or unable to concentrate in the classroom.”

“Working children often suffer severe malnutrition, anaemia, hard labour and fatigue. Inadequate sleep makes them more susceptible to infectious diseases,” said Masindi.

According to the FAO, efforts to eliminate child labour in agriculture face persistent challenges, due to rural poverty and the concentration of child labour in the informal economy and unpaid family labour.

FAO stresses that child labour in agriculture is a global issue that is harming children, damaging the agricultural sector and perpetuating rural poverty.

“Children who work long hours are likely to continue to swell the ranks of the hungry and poor. As their families depend on their work, this deprives the children of the opportunity to go to school, which in turn prevents them from getting decent jobs and income in the future,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Daniel Gustafson.

“Since more than 70 percent of child labour worldwide takes place in agriculture, it is vital to integrate child labour into national agricultural policies and address the issue at the household level. Otherwise, it will further exacerbate poverty and hunger in rural areas. We need to break this vicious circle if we want to achieve progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Zero hunger is not possible without zero child labour,” he added.


  • Nearly three out of every four children involved in child labour is working in agriculture.
  • The number of children in agriculture labour has increased by 10-million since 2012.
  • Of the 152 million child labourers in the world, the vast majority – 108 million – are engaged in farming, livestock, forestry or aquaculture.
  • Nearly 70% of child labour is unpaid family labour.
  • The incidence of child labour in countries affected by armed conflict is 77 per cent higher than the global average.
  • Nearly half of all child labour in the world now takes place in Africa: 72 million, or one in five of Africa’s children, are in child labour and the vast majority is performed in agriculture, followed by Asia with 62 million.

About the author

Thabo Molelekwa

Thabo Molelekwa joined OurHealth citizen journalists project in 2013 and went on to become an intern reporter in 2015. Before joining Health-e News, Thabo was a member of the Treatment Action Campaign’s Vosloorus branch. He graduated from the Tshwane University of Technology with a diploma in Computer Systems and started his career at Discovery Health as a claims assessor. In 2016 he was named an International HIV Prevention Reporting Fellow with the International Centre for Journalists and was a finalist in the Discovery Health Journalism Awards competition in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Thabo also completed a feature writing course at the University of Cape Town in 2016. In 2017 he became a News reporter , he is currently managing the Citizen Journalism programme.You can follow him on @molelekwa98