UN expert points out that agricultural work can be a gateway to child labor

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The high levels of informality and the lack of supervision and protection within the agricultural sector favor human trafficking, both adults and children, the UN special rapporteur on human trafficking said Tuesday, in a report addressed to the Council. of Human Rights.

“The growth of the agricultural industry and corporate power, coupled with the rapid pace of climate change, have further aggravated the risks of human trafficking,” said Siobhán Mullally.

The rapporteur’s study examines the prevalence of human trafficking in the agricultural sector, especially for forced labor, and highlights the need for mandatory measures to protect human rights and the environment.

Women and children, frequent victims

Mullally stated that child labor is a frequent activity in the agricultural sector, and that the risk of child trafficking persists.

Despite the global commitment to end child labor by 2025, the study indicates that this practice has increased, reaching 8.4 million children during the last four years. According to the expert, the agricultural work is a gateway to child labor.

The report warns that women are also at risk of being victims of trafficking or other forms of violence, such as sexual abuse and harassment. “If women’s work in agriculture is invisible, the gaps in care, protection and prevention measures against trafficking are even greater,” she said.

It also underscored that gender inequality in land ownership and security of tenure “contributes to poverty, dependency, and the risk of violence, including the trafficking of women and girls for exploitation in all its forms, in particular forced labour, sexual exploitation and forced marriage”.

Specifically, she highlighted that indigenous women and girls may be at higher risk of trafficking, due to a confluence of factors, such as discrimination and violence, based on gender, race and ethnicity, indigenous origin, and poverty.

The rapporteur documents in her report the risks faced by indigenous refugee and migrant women, which are aggravated by language barriers and lack of access to information about their rights and legal assistance.

Working conditions did not improve during the pandemic, despite being essential workers

Mullally noted that protections for temporary, seasonal and migrant workers remain limited and that they are at risk of exploitation.

He added that, despite the demand for agricultural workers, restrictive immigration policies persist. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, farmworkers were designated ‘essential,’ but this led neither to improvements in their protection nor to increased safe migration routes,” he stated.

The study also highlights the crucial role played by trade unions and workers’ associations in the fight against human trafficking.

Lastly, he expressed concern about the impact of climate change on human trafficking. “Natural disasters and climate-induced migration or displacement can result in the exploitation of small farmers in debt conditions,” he noted.

The rapporteur’s next report to the General Assembly, in October, will be dedicated to analyzing this phenomenon.

The special rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the umbrella name for the Council’s independent investigative and monitoring mechanisms that deal with specific country situations or thematic issues around the world. The experts of the Special Procedures work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organization and provide their services in their individual capacity.

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