June 12, 2017 / 4:24 PM / 7 months ago

Aid agencies urged to help prevent child labor during crises

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are doing back-breaking labor in potato fields and working with pesticides in baking hot greenhouses, a U.N. agency said on Monday as it called for greater efforts to prevent child labor during crises.

Conflicts and disasters can push children into work that is unsuitable for their age, harms their physical and mental development and deprives them of schooling, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on World Day Against Child Labour.

About 100 million children and young people are affected by disasters every year and 230 million live in areas affected by conflict, the agency said as it launched a guide to help aid agencies and policy makers prevent child labor during crises.

“We are trying to help aid agencies working on food security and nutrition to be more child labor sensitive and to have the risks at least on their radar,” FAO child labor expert Ariane Genthon told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Rome.

There are an estimated 168 million child laborers worldwide, 98 million of whom work in agriculture.

Evidence shows children and adolescents working in agriculture suffer higher rates of injury and death than adults, the FAO said. They may be exposed to pesticides or work with dangerous machinery and heavy loads.

During crises families find it harder to provide food, education and protection for their children, increasing the risks of child labor, including debt bondage.

Genthon said conflicts in the Middle East had led to an increase in child labor.

Syrian children as young as nine or 10 are laboring in potato fields in Lebanon lifting loads dangerous for their small frames, she added.

Children also work in greenhouses spraying pesticides, or as garlic peelers - a task which causes painful damage to their fingers.

The FAO guidance also includes advice on ensuring that aid programs do not inadvertently exacerbate child labor.

For example, it said a cash-for-work initiative which generates high demand for adult labor could leave children shouldering more farmwork.

But Genthon said not all child participation in agriculture constituted child labor. In many communities, children look after animals and pick fruit and vegetables.

Light, safe agricultural work over short periods can provide children with valuable skills for their futures, she said.

Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

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