Symposium: A Multidisciplinary Model Toward Preventing and Eradicating Child Labour in the Agricultural Sector
This article examines the field experience of World Vision’s Campos de Esperanza project, a U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL)-funded programme that aims to promote labour rights and prevent child labour in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz, Mexico. The piece provides an overview of the project interventions that have proven to show early signs of success in reducing child labour.
The Comprehensive Approach in Mexico
World Vision has partnered with the USDOL to address child labour around the world for over 17 years. With each project, best practices and lessons learned have been identified to help strengthen and refine World Vision’s comprehensive approach to eradicating child labour. The strategies for Campos de Esperanza take into account the repeated learnings from past DOL-funded projects throughout the world and the project team’s understanding of child labour issues in Mexico to form a multi-pronged approach to eradicating child labour.
Promoting school reinsertion and quality education
Campos de Esperanza is working to inform parents and caregivers about school availability, to improve the process for students to return to school and to change attitudes and practices of school administrators to accept migrant children into schools. The project is training teachers and school administrators, as well as supporting classroom and out-of-school learning for target children and youth, to increase quality teaching and learning. Together, these initiatives are intended to make education both accessible and interesting so that children and youth are less likely to drop out and engage in hazardous forms of child labour.
One of the project’s out-of-school programmes is community libraries that provide children access to age-appropriate literature at least once a week. Children have expressed a desire to take books home and to share them with their families to discuss what they have learned. In the libraries, books and reading have become an everyday activity, which is not very common in rural communities in Mexico.
Naseem Buras. Unsplash.
Establishing alternatives for adolescents of legal age to work
In Mexico, adolescents of legal working age (15 years and older) lack livelihood pathways beyond the agricultural sector. The Federal Labour Law classifies all agricultural activities as dangerous, prohibiting the participation of girls and boys under 18 years old. Therefore, the project is providing alternatives to hazardous labour for youth, such as life skills and technical training, entrepreneurship and linkages to social protection programmes. These alternatives are identified and determined by adolescents with programme support, depending on their interest, availability and context. The technical trainings are an opportunity to find alternatives for their own future, and in the words of one recipient youth, youth can “be something other than cane-cutters”. Some youth have already started generating income from selling products or services they learned from the trainings, such as screen-printing balloons for community events and decorating party centrepieces for dining tables.
Promoting local level protection and social mobilization in the community
Rural communities often perceive children as an additional source of income, and do not recognize the risks of child labour. To shift the social norms and practices around child labour, the project is implementing robust social mobilization initiatives and awareness-raising campaigns. The project is establishing and/or strengthening civil society organizations that can appropriately identify and accompany cases of child labour and other violations in the community. Community leaders and volunteers of these organizations are trained by project staff on child labour, children’s rights, labour rights, child protection and organizational management and planning. These organizations refer cases to local child protection systems and provide basic guidance on labour issues.
The project has seen how awareness-raising activities—such as community murals, community dialogues and radio spots broadcasted in local stations—have begun to shape the conversation in communities. For example, community members have shared that they felt seen in the murals, because these include prominent elements of their culture, landscape and history along with the message, “Give them a better future. No to child labour”. This connection has led communities to accept the project and its message, and the project has seen an increase in the number of participants per activity.
Developing joint actions with the public and private sectors
Coordination with the public sector to address and respond to cases of child labour must be carried out at the federal, state and municipal levels to ensure child labour prevention policies are aligned. The project advocates for all sectoral plans, development plans, labour inspection procedures and CITI (Comisión Intersecretarial para la Prevención y Erradicación del Trabajo Infantil y la Protección de Adolescentes trabajadores en Edad Permitida or, in English, Inter-sectoral Commission for the Prevention and Eradication of Child Labour and the Protection of Adolescents of Working Age in Mexico, action plans that address child labour. These efforts have already resulted in the Federal CITI agreeing to establish CITIs at the state level and inviting the project to provide trainings to public officials on child labour and occupational safety and health in the agricultural sector. The project is jointly updating the guidelines, protocols and manuals for these technical trainings to government staff, ensuring the message of strong inter-institutional coordination is clear.
Similarly, the project’s engagement with the private sector promotes the establishment of due diligence and grievance mechanisms, to improve working conditions and reduce the risks of child labour, forced labour and other forms of labour exploitation. Guidelines and actions for responsible recruitment (for example, using written contracts, avoiding holding documents and payments and providing shelters with the necessary services and conditions), are being co-developed with each sector. Occupational safety and health programmes are also being implemented where critical areas are monitored and sufficient resources are allocated to identify, prevent and mitigate occupational risks. The sugarcane and coffee sectors are appreciative of the occupational risk assessments and the specific strategies created for each sector according to its needs. The positive results have led to other sectors requesting the project’s assistance to replicate the good practices in other parts of the country.
Strengthening the capacities of workers to claim their rights
Protecting workers and their rights to decent wages, access to social protections and optimal working conditions are critical to the economic growth and sustainable livelihoods for families, thus reducing the need for children to work. Workers trained by the project report that they now know how to identify occupational risks in the workplace and are aware of their labour rights. For migrant agricultural day labourers specifically, the project supports the establishment of social programs, such as access to education, shelters, health and social protection services. For example, the project coordinated with the Mexican Social Security Institute to hold a vaccination campaign, reaching 1,919 day labourers with the message that providing preventative health services for workers impacts the household, reducing the likelihood of an adult being unable to work and a child needing to work.
The actions mentioned above all directly or indirectly play a role in eradicating child labour and its worst forms in Mexico. Given that the drivers of child labour are diverse and vary across social, economic, cultural and political spheres, multi-pronged and multi-stakeholder approaches are required. Campos de Esperanza has been actively utilizing this approach and as a result, has seen early signs of success. For example, national representatives and producer associations from the sugarcane sector have adopted responsible recruitment strategies in the field to reduce child labour. A sugar mill is now requesting that cutters who travel with their children enroll them in school prior to working. Community leaders are making household visits to ensure and support the enrolment of children into schools.
To measure project effectiveness, Campos de Esperanza has a Direct Beneficiary Monitoring System (DBMS) to track the provision of education and livelihood services and the status of children engaged in child labour every six months. At the end of the project, a comparative analysis of the DBMS data will be done to see the overall impact of project interventions.
World Vision’s experiences and early successes have shown that in order to make sustainable progress in reducing child labour, equal engagement of workers, families, communities, employers and government actors at all levels are critical ingredients for success.
This article has been prepared by World Vision as a contributor to Delta 8.7. As provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use of Delta 8.7, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.