UN agencies call for better protection of children working in fishing industry

Governments must take measures to protect children from harmful work in small-scale fisheries and aquaculture, two United Nations agencies stressed today, noting that many are exposed to hazardous working conditions even when their countries have signed treaties to protect them.In a guidance document, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) said many children working in the fishing industry remain exposed to unacceptable working conditions, requiring them to dive to unsafe depths – often at night – work long hours in unsanitary processing plants, and handle toxic chemicals and dangerous equipment or gear. Girls working in fish processing depots are also at risk of sexual abuse. “Work of this kind is intolerable,” said the FAO Assistant Director-General for Fisheries and Aquaculture, Árni M. Mathiesen. “It affects children’s health and learning abilities, and often prevents them from attending school.” Constance Thomas, Director of ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, stressed the importance of ensuring that agreements designed to protect children from child labour are implemented, as many times countries have signed treaties but failed to translate them into national legislation.FAO and ILO estimate that around 130 million children work in agriculture, livestock and fisheries – accounting for 60 per cent of child labour worldwide. There is no aggregate data showing how many children work in fisheries and aquaculture, but case study evidence suggests child labour is a problem especially in informal small and medium-sized fishing and aquaculture enterprises and in family operations.“Children are more at risk than adults from safety and health hazards because their bodies are not yet fully developed,” said the Director of the Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division of FAO, Rob Vos. “Programmes to reduce poverty and improve fishing technologies and practices will take away the need for child labour.”A major challenge is addressing the root causes of child labour – poverty and food insecurity. Promoting decent work opportunities for adults, social protection and, free education with school feeding programmes can lead to sustainable solutions, the agencies said.FAO and ILO are urging compliance with international rules to protect children working in the industry. These include the ILO’s Minimum Age Convention, and its Worst Forms of Child Labour and Work in Fishing conventions, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Working with fishing communities is also essential to ensure that children receive adequate care and education, and are not involved in hazardous activities, the agencies added.

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