5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour: Strategies to address child labour in artisanal fisheries and aquaculture, May 19, 2022

Text of the presentation by Dr Muhammad Hidayat Greenfield, Regional Secretary

I would like to begin by noting that my expert colleague Mopholosi Morokong will address the key drivers of child labour in agriculture in Thematic Panel No.9 today. Many of the same challenges exist in aquaculture as a sub-sector of agriculture, and in small-scale fisheries. Our position is that an integrated rights-based approach that includes a comprehensive set of actions to address health and safety in agriculture is vital to removing children from harm and ensuring safe work for all workers, especially young workers and women workers.

In this discussion, I would like to focus on the intersection between climate change and child labour in the context of small-scale fisheries and aquaculture. Due to limited time, I would like to highlight just five issues requiring further attention and action:

1. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, combined with rising sea levels, coastal and river erosion, and declining aquatic species (especially ocean caught fish stocks), have dramatically affected the livelihoods and health of fishers, fishworkers and farm workers. A rise in the number of lost days due to extreme weather events, for example, leads to lost income and a corresponding rise in poverty and debt. These, as we know, are key drivers of child labour.

2. In the absence of social protection, the displacement of rural communities due to climate change increases economic, social, and physical vulnerability which in turn contributes to a rise in child labour across all sectors. The severity of this climate displacement among coastal communities engaged in small-scale fisheries and aquatic food production needs urgent attention.

3. It should also be noted that climate vulnerability is exacerbated by the increased role of middlemen in aquatic food production. Much of the value in this value chain is extracted by middlemen and traders to the detriment of the incomes and livelihoods of fishers, fishworkers and farm workers. Therefore, cutting out unnecessary, parasitic middlemen is vital to promoting genuine social development and eliminating child labour. Equally important is that a legal framework must be established or reinforced to ensure fishers, fishworkers and farm workers exercise the right to collectively negotiate fair prices and wages. This is essential to both reducing the vulnerability that leads to child labour and ensuring a just transition for fishers, farmers, workers and their communities.

4. Rising sea levels and increased salinity have also forced changes in land use – displacing staple food crops such as rice with fish and shrimp farms. While in the short-term we may see a rise in household incomes due to this shift to commercial, small-scale aquaculture, this displacement puts food security at risk in the longer term. Clearly this puts children’s health and nutrition at risk. This risk is highest where new growth aquaculture is more likely to supply urban and cross-border supply chains than ensure local food security. As the FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines) demonstrates, sustainable small-scale fisheries make a vital contribution to local food security and social development.

5. To some extent the increased consumption of aquatic foods globally – the “blue food revolution” – is seen as mitigating climate change by reducing demand for protein from the meat and dairy industries which are major contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. However, we need to look within aquatic food production to differentiate which blue foods are environmentally and socially sustainable, and which are not. Again, the priority must be the right to food and nutrition and local food security. The scale and growth of aquatic food production must also consider the social and environmental sustainability of blue food and its ecological limits. If not addressed, we could see a very mobile global aquatic food industry migrating across countries, leaving damaged environments and jobless communities in its wake.

In defending the human rights of workers and their communities, eliminating child labour, protecting the health and well-being of young workers, and taking action on climate change, gender equality and the rights of women is fundamental. As with all aspects of social and economic life, patriarchy perpetuates inequality and injustice and prevents solutions. This applies equally to the task of eliminating child labour and protecting planetary health.

In conclusion we propose three priorities for strategies to address child labour in small-scale fisheries and aquaculture:

1. The extension of comprehensive social protection to include small-scale fishers, fishworkers and workers engaged in aquaculture in both the formal and informal sectors. This social protection should ensure access to rights (housing, education, health, food and nutrition) and the elimination of household debt caused by the lack of access to these rights. It includes the rebuilding of social infrastructure and public spending in coastal and rural communities. The FAO’s SSF Guidelines provides a very important framework for this. Increased social protection and public financing should specifically support a just transition for small-scale fishers and fishworkers affected by climate change, including climate displacement.

2. Ratification and implementation of ILO Convention No.184 and Recommendation No.192 on health and safety in agriculture is needed to address hazardous work and child labour and should extend coverage to those engaged in aquaculture and small-scale fisheries as sub-sectors of agriculture. This means improving the working conditions of adults and youth, reducing hazardous work and protecting children from harm.

3. There must be enhanced protection of the rights of women fishers, fishworkers and women engaged in aquaculture; supported by policies and legislation guaranteeing the role of women in decision-making and access to resources (including land). This must apply to both the formal and informal sectors. The advancement of the rights of women, gender equality, and greater collective women’s representation are essential to any strategies for eliminating child labour.

Thank you.