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Child Labor and Agriculture

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April 12, 2022

The ILO defines child labor as work that “deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” The ILO notes that whether the work of children is “child labor” depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which the work is performed. Hazardous child labor is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

The ILO estimated that 160 million children aged 5-17 were engaged in child labor in 2020, including 70 percent who were employed in agriculture. This means that almost 10 percent of the world’s 5-17 year olds were in child labor. Note that the ILO excludes from child labor under 18-year olds who baby sit, mow lawns, or engage in other casual work to earn pocket money.

70% of the estimated 160 million 5-17 year old child workers were employed in agriculture in 2020

Over half of child workers were in Sub-Saharan Africa, followed by a third in Asia.

Boys are more likely than girls to be employed in agriculture, while girls are more likely to be employed in domestic services

Cocoa is a commodity often produced with the help of child workers


Between 2000 and 2016, the number of child workers declined, but rose between 2016 and 2020.

Goods. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2005 requires the DOL’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) to maintain a list of goods that are produced with the help of child or forced labor in violation of international standards s

Almost half of the goods produced with the help of child labor were agricultural commodities that ranged from coffee and sugarcane to cotton and tobacco. Some studies suggest that an expansion of export agriculture leads to more child labor in some developing countries.

Agriculture had the most goods produced with child and forced labor in 2020

The ILO reported that the Caribbean had the highest share of children who worked in Latin America, while the largest number of child workers were in South America. The Caribbean also stands out as the sub-region with a very high share of child workers who are 5 to 11 years old.

Over 12% of Caribbean children work

The Caribbean has the highest share of very young child workers

The 2020 list of goods produced with the help of child labor in Mexico includes several fresh vegetables. The ILAB report does not differentiate between fresh vegetables produced for the domestic and export markets.

ILAB identified agricultural commodities produced with child labor in Mexico in 2020

ILAB identified agricultural commodities produced with child labor in Mexico in 2020
County/Area Child Labor Forced Labor Child Labor & Forced Labor
India Bidis (hand-rolled cigarettes), Brassware, Cotton, Fireworks, Footwear, Gems, Glass Bangles, Incense (agarbatti), Leather Goods/Acessories, Locks, Matches, Mica, Silk Fabric, Silk Thread, Soccer Balls, Sugarcane, Thread/Yarn &nbps; Bricks, Carpets, Cottonseed (hybrid), Embellished Textiles, Garments, Rice, Sandstone, Stones
Indonesia Footware (sandals), Gold, Rubber, Tin, Tobacco   Fish, Oil (palm)
Iran Bricks, Carpet    
Kazakhstan     Cotton
Kenya Coffee, Fish, Gold, Khat/Miraa (stimulant plant), Rice, Sand, Sisal, Sugarcane, Tea, Tobacco    
Krgyz Republic Cotton, Tobacco    
Lebanon Potatoes, Tobacco    
Lesotho Cattle    
Liberia Diamonds, Rubber    
Madagascar Mica, Sapphires, Stones, Vanilla    
Malawi Tea   Tobacco
Malaysia   Electronics, Garments, Rubber Globs Oil (palm)
Mali Cotton, Gold   Rice
Mauritania Cattle, Goats    
Mexico Beans (green beans), Cattle, Coffee, Cucumbers, Eggplants, Garments, Leather Goods, Melons, Onions, Poppies, Pornography, Sugarcane, Tobacco   Chile Peppers, Tomatoes

Policies. Reducing the employment of child labor involves the carrot of offering low-cost education and other services so that children do not have to work and the stick of enacting laws that prohibit child labor and enforcing them. Many national and international programs seek to reduce and eliminate child labor.

The ILO plans its 5th global conference to eliminate child labor in South Africa in May 2022.


ILO. International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour and Forced Labour (IPEC+)

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