Inputs by the COSATU General Secretary Solly Phetoe at the launch of the Child Labour Project- a partnership between the International Labour Organization and the Department of Employment and Labour

17 November 2023

Strengthening the Prevention and Elimination of Child Labour in South Africa: A Focus on the Agricultural Sector  

Child labour must be understood as a consequence of global inequality. We have more than enough resources on our planet to feed everyone. However, global inequality and capitalist exploitation continues to drive poverty and hunger. 

The world’s richest 1% owns almost half of the world’s wealth, while the poorest half of the world own less than 1% of the world’s wealth. 81 billionaires have 50% more wealth than the rest of the world combined.  10 billionaires own more than 200 million African women own combined. The poorest countries are spending 4 times more on repaying debts than on health care.

Food and energy companies more than double their profits in 2022.  In stark contrast, the World Food Programme estimates that 824 million people went to bed hungry every night in 2022.  

The global economic crisis, rising unemployment and poverty and inequalities, the Covid pandemic, high food and energy prices and war all contribute to reversing progress and making it harder to achieve the global goal to end child labour. 

The world is three times richer today than 20 years ago, but 79% of people do not have universal social protection, 84% of people say the minimum wage is not enough to live on and 81% of countries have allowed violations of the right to collective bargaining. 

The latest estimates show that there are more children in Sub-Saharan Africa (86.6 m) than in the rest of the world combined, and most of them, 4 out of every 5 children, work in agriculture.

The main causes of child labour are poverty and lack of access to quality education. This is where we need to act urgently. According to the ILO International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), gender and birth order often determine the tasks and jobs that boys and girls do, as well as their working conditions, hours, and education


Many boys and girls are involved in agricultural work, which is a common form of child labour in Africa. Boys are more likely to work in agriculture and industry, while girls are more likely to work in services. Boys and girls both work in the fields, where they are often alone for long periods of time and face the risk of violence and abuse. 

Many girls face the double burden of having to do both household chores in their own homes (for example, cleaning, cooking, childcare, collecting water and firewood), and agricultural work, such as sowing, harvesting and livestock holdings. When both household and agricultural work are considered, there is evidence that girls frequently work more hours than boys.

More significantly, a higher percentage of girl child labourers are not paid; and when child labourers are paid, girls often receive less money than boys for doing the same work. Furthermore, community attitudes, such as not valuing girls’ education and not recognizing household chores as work, make it harder to improve the situation of girls in rural areas. 

The different types of work that boys and girls do expose them to different dangers and harms: 

In agriculture, boys often use machines, sharp tools, chemicals, and they face the risk of losing limbs, getting cuts and burns, being poisoned by pesticides, and other negative health effects. Girls often have to carry water, collect and carry wood, which can cause injuries to their muscles and bones, fatigue, and sexual abuse. 

In communities that raise animals, boys have to herd livestock in remote, isolated places, where they can suffer from cold, animal attacks, infections, and sexual abuse. Girls usually take care of poultry and smaller animals, and they can get sick from diseases that animals can pass on to humans, such as salmonella and avian flu. 

In fishing, boys often catch fish and they are at risk of drowning, hypothermia, getting tangled in nets and getting crushed. Girls often sell and process fish, and they can have breathing problems from smoke, and cuts and burns. Studies show that transactional sex is common in some places where fish are sold, exposing girls to commercial sexual exploitation, sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual abuse. 

The 5th Global Conference on Child labour held in Durban in 2022, adopted the Durban Call to Action with commitments in the following key areas: 

1.   Make Decent work a reality for adults and youth above minimum age 

2.   End Child Labour in Agriculture 

3.   Strengthen the prevention and elimination of child labour, including its worst forms, forced labour, modern slavery and trafficking in persons, and the protection of survivors through data-driven and survivor-informed policy and programmatic responses

4.    Realize children’s right to education and ensure universal access to free, compulsory, quality, equitable and inclusive education, and training. 

5.   Achieve universal access to social protection

6.   Increase financing and international cooperation for the elimination of child labour and forced labour. 

The elimination of child labour is a challenge that requires that we all act together.  We must act urgently to prevent a human disaster. We owe it to these 86.6 million children in Africa and the 160 million children worldwide who are losing their childhood and their future. COSATU will strengthen its effort to ensure that the Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child labour is implemented and work closely with Department of Employment and Labour on inspection, reprimand the employers who are not complying who continuously put the health and safety of children in danger by exposing them in these activities that undermines the growth of children.  

However, as COSATU we must register our concern, we are disturbed by the attitude and behaviour that is continuously displayed by employers more especially that are in Agriculture who refuse trade unions access to the Farms e.g. ZZ2.  

Organised Labour is committed to work together with all role players on the Elimination of Child labour in all sectors of course with the special focus on Agriculture sector