THE IMPACT OF AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION FACTORS ON CHILDREN’S HEALTH
Sergiy O. Chertov1, Olena M. Batyhina2, Andrii О. Harkusha3
1Department of Surgical and Propaedeutic Dentistry, Zaporizhzhia State University, Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine
2Department of Constitutional, Administrative, Environmental and Labour Law, Poltava Law Institute of Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University, Poltava, Ukraine
3Department of Civil, Commercial and Environmental Law, Poltava Law Institute of Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University, Poltava, Ukraine
Introduction: According to the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and the regulations of the World Health Organization, the right to health and the right to life are interconnected. However, the right to life may be a starting point in the context of the right to health. The issue of ensuring the right to life and health protection of certain sections of society, in particular, children working in agriculture, is on the agenda.
The aim: To analyze the provisions of international law and scientific literature on the effects of workplace factors on the health of children working in agriculture and to examine the existing limitations of such effects.
Materials and methods: International acts, data of international organizations and conclusions of scientists have been examined and used in the study. The study also summarizes information from scientific journals and monographs from a medical and legal point of view with scientific methods. The article is based on dialectical, comparative, analytic, synthetic and comprehensive research methods.
Conclusions: In the context of preserving the right to health and the right to life, children are the most vulnerable categories of agricultural workers. Working conditions and workplace safety in agriculture for minors have to be properly organized. The level of traumatization, occupational morbidity and above all, the standard of health of child labourers in agriculture depend on the level of proper organization of occupational safety. In many countries, the state of the working environment and safety for child labourers in agriculture and, accordingly, the standard of their health remain unsatisfactory.
KEY WORDS: agriculture, human health, child labour, working conditions
Wiad Lek 2019, 72, 10, 2017-2023
It is scientifically proven that agriculture is one of the most insalubrious work sectors at any age [1,2,3,4,5], but this area is most dangerous for children because of their physical and mental development. For historical reasons, a large number of minors are employed in the agricultural sector. The latest global estimates indicate that 152 million children – 64 million girls and 88 million boys – are in child labour globally, accounting for almost one in 10 of all children worldwide . For instance, according to statistics in the field of agriculture, 46% of all employed children work in urban areas of Malawi and 75% – in rural areas .
Child labour is most commonly used in Africa, South and West Asia. Important factors for involving minors in this area are low labour quality requirements, considerable use of manual labour, almost complete lack of control over manpower utilization, tolerant public attitudes to the work of minors in agriculture, etc. Very often, labour relations involving children are not formalized, and as a result, children remain socially disadvantaged due to the adequate working environment and labour safety. It is well known that agricultural production is one of the most traumatic industries and, despite this, the working conditions here are often not appropriate for this category of workers. Many child labourers are injured, killed and have occupational health problems due to the inappropriate working environment.
Children working in agriculture in such countries as Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Liberia, Somalia, Ethiopia, Chad often use heavy equipment and sharp tools, are exposed to pesticides or other harmful chemicals, can be bitten by harmful insects, work for a long time and in extreme weather conditions; their health is also endangered when they work in farm animal production. That is to say, all these factors, together with the improper labour management, can cause significant harm to the children’s health, which is unacceptable and should be clearly regulated by law.
Aim: to analyze the provisions of international law and scientific literature on the effects of workplace factors on the health of children working in agriculture and to examine the existing limitations of such effects.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
International acts, data of international organizations and conclusions of scientists have been examined and used in the study. The study also summarizes information from scientific journals and monographs from a medical and legal point of view with scientific methods. The article is based on dialectical, comparative, analytic, synthetic and comprehensive research methods.
REVIEW AND DISCUSSION
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has unanimously adopted a resolution declaring 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, and has asked the International Labour Organization to take the lead in its implementation. The resolution highlights the member States’ commitments “to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms” .
In many countries child labour is mainly an agricultural issue. Worldwide 60 percent of all child labourers in the age group 5-17 years work in agriculture, including farming, fishing, aquaculture, forestry, and livestock. This amounts to over 98 million girls and boys. The majority (67.5%) of child labourers are unpaid family members. In agriculture this percentage is higher, and is combined with very early entry into work, sometimes between 5 and 7 years of age. Agriculture is one of the three most dangerous sectors in terms of work-related fatalities, non-fatal accidents and occupational diseases. About 59 percent of all children in hazardous work aged 5-17 are in agriculture .
It should be emphasized that irrespective of age, agriculture, along with mining and construction, is one of the three most hazardous sectors in terms of fatalities, accidents, and ill health .
In many rural areas, children work for their survival and to meet the family’s need for cash, food, shelter and clothing. But the factors leading to child labour may be many and intertwined .
Poverty is the main cause of child labour in agriculture, together with limited access to quality education, inadequate agricultural technology and access to adult labour, high hazards and risks, and traditional attitudes towards children’s participation in agricultural activities. Especially in the context of family farming, small-scale fisheries and livestock husbandry, some participation of children in non-hazardous activities can be positive as it contributes to the inter-generational transfer of skills and children’s food security. It is important to distinguish between light duties that do no harm to the child and child labour, which is work that interferes with compulsory schooling and damages health and personal development, based on hours and conditions of work, child’s age, activities performed and hazards involved .
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations child labour is work that harms, abuses and exploits a child or deprives a child of fully participating in education. It refers to working children below the national minimum employment age, or children under 18 doing hazardous work . It is important to distinguish between economic activities that do no harm to the child, and child labour .
We embrace the idea that helping out in farming related activities is not always child labour. Tasks, that do not interfere with a child’s education and leisure time, are age-appropriate and safe “can be a normal part of growing up in a rural environment.” Through non-hazardous activities, parents often teach their children important skills which can build self-esteem and increase family food security .
In other words, it is necessary to separate two different concepts, child labour and child assistance to their parents in the field of agriculture. However, regardless of the difference in essence and meaning of these concepts, it is important to keep the working conditions at the proper level to protect children’s health.
According to the World Health Organization’s definition of “child health”, it is complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing of a child and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Healthy development of the child is of basic importance; the ability to live harmoniously in a changing total environment is essential to such development .
Children are particularly at risk as their bodies and minds are still developing, and they are more vulnerable to hazards such as pesticides, which are quite often used in agricultural activities. The negative health consequences of their work can last into adulthood .
While some children work directly with pesticides, mixing and applying them, other children are indirectly exposed to the hazards of toxic pesticides, for example when working in the fields, weeding or harvesting, or through contaminated water. Such exposure can seriously harm their health and development. Children are more vulnerable than adults because of their smaller size and low body weight, their weight/skin-surface ratio, their need to drink and eat more often that adults and the way they breathe (twice air intake than an adult).
Additionally, children’s ability to successfully detoxify and excrete toxins is lower than adults’ because their organs are still developing. Finally, children have a lower capacity to assess risks and often cannot read warning labels .
Child laborers are often exposed to high levels of organic dust. This generally occurs while harvesting crops or preparing feed for farm animals. Breathing organic dust can result in allergic respiratory diseases, such as occupational asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonia (alveolitis) .
Moreover, children working in the livestock sector are at risk of disrupted physical, mental, moral and social development. It is widely thought that working closely with livestock carries inherent risks of health problems caused by working long hours in extreme weather conditions, poor sanitation and hygiene, using chemical products (e.g. disinfectants to treat animals) and inhaling (livestock) dust. In addition, there are direct risks of injury when handling animals. Risks include being bitten (also by wild animals) [15, p. 7]. In addition to the negative physical effects on health, child labour in livestock raising carries a significant risk of psychological disorders in the case of slaughtering, cutting, processing, cleaning of animals. Children who work in livestock raising can see dying, bloodied, tortured animals, which, of course, negatively affects their mental and moral development. Therefore, it is considered unquestionable that there is a high likelihood of deterioration of children’s health and psychological condition as a result of child labour in livestock raising.
Skin problems are common. Many of the crops children work with are abrasive, prickly, or contain skin irritants that can provoke allergies, rashes, blistering, etc.
Exposure to loud noise can harm hearing. Continuous exposure to high levels of noise in the workplace such as that from machinery can result in permanent hearing problems and damage in later life .
Children also have higher energy and fluid requirements and are more susceptible to dehydration. The physical strain and repetitive movements associated with many agricultural tasks can deform bones and injure ligaments and muscles, especially in the back, causing life-long disabilities .
In many countries, children can operate or use powerful machinery and equipment, such as grain screw conveyors, baling machines, liquid manure carts and other large agricultural machinery; they may be also dragged into or injured by such machinery. Furthermore, according to the ILO statistics, half of all fatal accidents occur in agriculture .
Child labourers use dangerous cutting tools. These include machetes, knives, scythes, sickles, etc. used to cut crops, hay, weeds, and brushwood. Cuts are frequent, and even more serious injuries can be sustained, such as amputations .
Much agricultural work is physically demanding and strenuous. It can involve long periods of standing, stooping, bending, making repetitive and forceful movements in awkward body positions (see cutting tools, below), and carrying heavy or awkward loads (baskets, bundles of crops, water containers, etc.), often over long distances. These types of activities can harm children’s musculoskeletal development and may result in permanent disability. Children must often work in extreme temperatures. They may work in the hot sun or in cold, wet conditions without suitable clothing or protective equipment . Children risk falling and injuries from falling objects. They may fall off ladders or even out of trees while picking high-growing fruit. They may also be injured by fruit pods falling from trees [10, p.367].
Exceeding of the permissible working time established by national labour law is a rather common violation concerning children. It can have a significant impact on their health.
Hours of work tend to be extremely long during planting and harvesting. During these high-activity periods, work in the fields can last from dawn to dusk, excluding the transport time to and from the fields. The intensity of the work offers little chance for rest breaks, and the length of the working day offers insufficient time for recuperation or leisure [10, p.367].
Consequently, children working in the agricultural sector face a significant number of physical, chemical, mechanical, biological, moral, ergonomic risks of inadequate occupational health and psychosocial dangers, as well as long working hours and poor working conditions.
All of these threats that children working in the agricultural sector are exposed to have to be overcome due to adequate labour management, well-established legislation and a properly organized public health system. At the same time, in rural areas, health care is often less complex than in urban areas. There are also fewer primary health care clinics in rural areas, which, of course, has a negative impact on addressing potential health problems for children working in agriculture.
The need to improve working conditions for children in the agricultural sector is proven by statistics. According to a recent report by the US government, more than half of work-related deaths among children in the US occur in agriculture, according to a new US government report published this week . For instance, between 2003 and 2016, 237 children died while working in agriculture in the US. Many of these children’s injuries and deaths may have been avoided with better work place protections .
To prevent diseases and eliminate existing health problems for minors, the employer has to ensure that adolescents working for him undergo preliminary and subsequent periodic medical examinations.
Most national legislations also contain important and necessary provisions aimed at respect of the rights of child labourers requiring a minor’s parents, adoptive parents and guardians, as well as government agencies and officials charged with overseeing and controlling compliance with labour law, to initiate termination of employment contract with the minor, including a fixed-term one, when its continuation threatens the health of the minor or violates his legitimate interests.
At the international legal level, namely, in Art. 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 20 November 1989, it is defined that 1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. 2. States Parties shall take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the present article. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of other international instruments, States Parties shall in particular: (a) Provide for a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment; (b) Provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment; (c) Provide for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of the present article .
All these requirements, of course, also apply to the agricultural sector. At the level of national law, states establish rules and requirements similar to those of the Convention. The Preamble to the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) stipulates that noting the terms of the Minimum Age (Agriculture) Convention, 1921 and сonsidering that the time has come to establish a general instrument on the subject, which would gradually replace the existing ones applicable to limited economic sectors, with a view to achieving the total abolition of child labour, andhaving determined that these proposals shall take the form of an international Convention.
According to Art. 1 of the Minimum Age Convention, each Member, for which this Convention is in force, undertakes to pursue a national policy designed to ensure the effective abolition of child labour and to raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons. Under Part 3 of Art. 2 of the above Convention, the minimum age specified in pursuance of paragraph 1 of this Article shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 3 of this Article, a Member whose economy and educational facility are insufficiently developed may, after consultation with the organizations of employers and workers concerned, where such exist, initially specify a minimum age of 14 years.
Art. 7 of the Minimum Age Convention warrants that national laws or regulations may permit the employment or work of persons 13 to 15 years of age on light work which is – (a) not likely to be harmful to their health or development; and (b) not such as to prejudice their attendance at school, their participation in vocational orientation or training programmes approved by the competent authority or their capacity to benefit from the instruction received.
Furthermore, the provisions of Art. 10 of the Minimum Age Convention are important since, under them, this Convention revises the Minimum Age (Agriculture) Convention, 1921, which means that all requirements of the minimum age legislation for workers, regardless of their field of activity, are properly harmonized.
Given the existence of international regulations, the minimum age requirement for employment is the first and foremost requirement enshrined in the legislation of many countries. In most countries, the minimum age of employment is 16 years. For instance, under Ukrainian law, namely, Art. 188 of the Labour Code of Ukraine, it is also 16 years old. As an exception, with the consent of a parent or a surrogate parent, persons who have attained the age of fifteen years may be employed. For the preparation of young people for productive labour, it is allowed to recruit students of high schools, vocational and secondary specialized educational institutions to perform light labour which does not harm their health and does not disturb the learning process, during non-study time upon reaching the age of fourteen.
The following example of age restrictions for labour in agriculture can be found in US law. Minors age 16 and above may work at any time in jobs not declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor (U.S.). Minors ages 14 and 15 may work outside school hours in jobs not declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labour Minors ages 12 and 13 may work in jobs not declared hazardous outside school hours either with written parental consent or on the same farm where their parents are employed. Minors ages 9 through 11 may pick berries and beans outside school hours if the child has the written consent of his/her parents or guardians and only if the farm has used less than 500 mandays of labour in all calendar quarters of the preceding year or the produce is sold within the state and the produce is not transported outside the state in any form .
The FLSA child labour provisions are designed to protect the educational opportunities of youth and prohibit their employment in jobs and under conditions detrimental to their health or safety. Night work is prohibited for minors under 16 unless other age indicated. Moreover, numerous occupations have been declared hazardous in 11 categories of employment for minors including, among others, operating tractors of over 20 PTO horsepower; operating or assisting to operate corn pickers, grain combines, hay movers, potato diggers, trenchers or earthmoving equipment, or power-driven circular, hand or chain saws; working in a yard, pen or stall occupied by a stud animal or a sow with suckling pigs; working inside a silo or manure pit; handling or applying certain agricultural chemicals; and handling or using a blasting agent such as dynamite or black powder .
In some states of the USA, for example, in Alaska, the legislation sets specific hours when minors are forbidden to work (from 9 pm to 5 am). In other states, for example, in New Mexico, it is from 9 pm to 7 am, to 14 years.
Moreover, some states of the USA set a different minimum age of employment compared to federal law. Thus, in accordance with the laws of the state of Washington, minimum age of employment is 18 years; hand-harvesting or cult. berries, bulbs, cucumbers and spinach is allowed for minors aged from 14, 12 years during non-school week. The state of Washington has also established the most stringent rules regarding the number of days off for minors working in dairy, livestock, hay and irrigation, namely, one day off every two weeks, under 18 years .
Agricultural employment is exempted from or is not listed among the covered sectors in the child labor laws of 17 states. Laws generally exclude minors employed by parents on family farms .
Turning back to the general international instruments concerning appropriate working environment in agriculture, we need to mention the Occupational Safety and Health Convention 1981 (No. 155) which defines that the term health, in relation to work, indicates not merely the absence of disease or infirmity; it also includes the physical and mental elements affecting health which are directly related to safety and hygiene at work.
The Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187) also establishes general principles for the organization of proper working conditions, including in the field of agriculture. Its preamble recognizes the global magnitude of occupational injuries, diseases and deaths, and the need for further action to reduce them.
The Occupational Safety and Health Recommendation 1981 (No. 164) is also worth mentioning as it stipulates that to the greatest extent possible, the provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981, here in after referred to as the Convention, and of this Recommendation should be applied to all branches of economic activity and to all categories of workers. The term health, in relation to work, indicates not merely the absence of disease or infirmity; it also includes the physical and mental elements affecting health which are directly related to safety and hygiene at work.
Moreover, the Chemicals Convention, 1990 (No. 170) applies to all branches of economic activities in which chemicals are used. It is well known that the agricultural sector is quite active in using chemicals to control pests, to improve plant growth and for other purposes.
In addition to the international instruments that prescribe general provisions for implementation of activities, including those in agriculture, by all workers regardless of age and other characteristics, there is a convention regarding child labour. We mean the International Labour Organization Convention on Prohibition and Immediate Action on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999 (No. 182) which was adopted considering the effective elimination of the worst forms of child labour requires immediate and comprehensive action, taking into account the importance of free basic education and the need to remove the children concerned from all such work and to provide for their rehabilitation and social integration while addressing the needs of their families. Art. 2 of the above Convention stipulates that for the purposes of this Convention, the term child shall apply to all persons under the age of 18. Art. 3 also defines the term the worst forms of child labour which also comprises work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.
In the context of international instruments relating to child labour, one cannot but mention the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) which was created in 1992 with the overall goal of the progressive elimination of child labour, which was to be achieved through strengthening the capacity of countries to deal with the problem and promoting a worldwide movement to combat child labour. IPEC currently has operations in 88 countries. It is the largest programme of its kind globally and the biggest single operational programme of the ILO .
As for the international instruments that directly regulate the implementation of agricultural activities, there is the Safety and Health in Agriculture Convention, 2001 (No. 184) adopted by General Conference of the International Labour Organization. Under Art. 1 of the Convention, the term agriculture covers agricultural and forestry activities carried out in agricultural undertakings including crop production, forestry activities, animal husbandry and insect raising, the primary processing of agricultural and animal products by or on behalf of the operator of the undertaking as well as the use and maintenance of machinery, equipment, appliances, tools, and agricultural installations, including any process, storage, operation or transportation in an agricultural undertaking, which are directly related to agricultural production. Furthermore, section IV of the Convention deals with the legal status of young workers and hazardous work. Art. 16 of this section stipulates that the minimum age for assignment to work in agriculture which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to harm the safety and health of young persons shall not be less than 18 years. The types of employment or work to which paragraph 1 applies shall be determined by national laws and regulations or by the competent authority, after consultation with the representative organizations of employers and workers concerned.
For instance, in the legislation of Ukraine, namely in section 31 of the Decree of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine of March 31, 1994, No. 46, which approves the State Regulation on Labour Protection 0.03-8.07-94 containing the “List of heavy jobs and jobs under harmful and dangerous working conditions where employment of child labourers is prohibited”, it is prohibited to employ minors as stable boys engaged in the service of stud horses; rear operators at trailed agricultural machines; cattle-breeders; workers employed at silkworm breeding factories; workers employed on opium poppy plantations; workers servicing wells, manure tanks, cisterns and other containers; workers employed in greenhouses; workers engaged in watering cotton manually; workers engaged in tobacco cleaning, transportation and primary processing; veterinary attendants. In other words, the law of Ukraine defines the most complex types of agricultural activities for which there are restrictions on child labour.
The Decree of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine of March 22, 1996, No. 59, approves the limiting norms for lifting and moving heavy things by minors, according to which it is forbidden to employ minors to do jobs that are solely related to lifting, holding or moving heavy things. Adolescents who do not have medical contraindications, as evidenced by the relevant medical certificate, are allowed to perform work that requires lifting and moving heavy things. Prolonged work on lifting and moving heavy things is not allowed for adolescents under 15 years of age. For instance, an IPEC study of tea estates in Lushoto and Rungwe Districts of Tanzania found that 13-year-olds carried up to 20 kg of green tea leaves, and 14-year-olds up to 30 kg, from the fields to the weighing stations, often for distances between 1 and 4 km .
The Plantations Convention, 1958 (No. 110) is one more special document governing agricultural activities. For the purpose of this Convention, the term plantation includes any agricultural undertaking regularly employing hired workers which is situated in the tropical or subtropical regions and which is mainly concerned with the cultivation or production for commercial purposes of coffee, tea, sugarcane, rubber, bananas, cocoa, coconuts, groundnuts, cotton, tobacco, fibres (sisal, jute and hemp), citrus, palm oil, cinchona or pineapple; it does not include family or small-scale holdings producing for local consumption and not regularly employing hired workers. Art. 39 of the Convention mentions the special legal status of young workers. In particular, it stipulates that where appropriate, provision shall be made, in accordance with the established procedure for the regulation of holidays with pay on plantations, for (a) more favourable treatment for young workers, in cases in which the annual holiday with pay granted to adult workers is not considered adequate for young workers.
The Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Convention, 1969 (No. 129) is also a special legal instrument in the field of agriculture. Art. 4 of the said Convention stipulates that the system of labour inspection in agriculture shall apply to agricultural undertakings in which work employees or apprentices, however they may be remunerated and whatever the type, form or duration of their contract. Art. 6 of the Convention states that the functions of the system of labour inspection in agriculture shall be (a) to secure the enforcement of the legal provisions relating to conditions of work and the protection of workers while engaged in their work, such as provisions relating to hours, wages, weekly rest and holidays, safety, health and welfare, the employment of women, children and young persons, and other connected matters, in so far as such provisions are enforceable by labour inspectors. Similar provisions are also contained in the ILO Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Recommendation, 1969 (No. 133).
Summarizing the above, we understand that at the level of the international community, as well as national laws, a number of measures have been taken to eliminate inappropriate conditions for child labour, as well as to eliminate child labour which does not meet the established age criteria for employment.
Children working in agriculture are exposed to many health hazards. Workplace hazards and risks can be more damaging and lasting for children’s health than that of adults. Despite the support and policy of preventing and reducing agricultural child labour by the international community, and addressing this issue at national level, the above problem is particularly difficult to solve.
It is necessary to separate two different concepts, child labour and child assistance to their parents in the field of agriculture. However, regardless of the difference in essence and meaning of these concepts, it is important to keep the working conditions at the proper level to protect children’s health.
Working conditions and workplace safety in agriculture for minors have to be properly organized. The level of traumatization, occupational morbidity and above all, the standard of health of child labourers in agriculture depend on the level of proper organization of occupational safety. In many countries, the state of the working environment and occupational safety for child labourers in agriculture and, accordingly, the standard of their health remain unsatisfactory.
Thus, taking into account the legal framework concerning exercising children’s right to health and life, it is necessary to develop additional guarantees for ensuring these rights in agriculture and a family business. Moreover, it is necessary to raise a concern of prosecuting parents and employers in case of violation of the fundamental rights of children.
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According to the order of the Authorship.
Sergiy O. Chertov – 0000-0001-9867-1061
Olena M. Batyhina – 0000-0002-7245-9369
Andrii О. Harkusha – 0000-0001-5266-3007
Conflict of interest:
The Authors declare no conflict of interest.
Andrii О. Harkusha
Poltava Law Institute of Yaroslav the Wise National Law University
6 Monastyrska str., 36000, Poltava, Ukraine
e- mail: email@example.com