Child labour in the livestock sector is widespread and largely ignored, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which has released the first global study on child labour issues related to livestock.
The FAO publication, 'Children's work in the livestock sector: Herding and beyond', released Monday, points out that agriculture accounts for most of the reported child labour in the world, and livestock accounts for some 40 percent of the agricultural economy.
It says efforts to curb child labour will require getting governments, farmer organizations and rural families directly involved in finding alternatives to practices which often reflect the need for survival.
The FAO report sustains that hazardous or potentially harmful work for children in the livestock sector has received less attention than child labour in other areas of agriculture, where much more has been done by international organizations, governments, civil society and rural families to address the problem.
'Reducing child labour in agriculture is not only an issue of human rights, it is also part of the quest for truly sustainable rural development and food security,' said Jomo Sundaram, Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Development Department.
'Child labour strikes at the heart of decent employment opportunities for young people, especially when it interferes with their formal schooling,' Sundaram added.
'The growing importance of livestock in agriculture means that efforts to reduce child labour will need to focus more on the factors that lead to harmful or hazardous work for children in that sector, while respecting and protecting the livelihoods of poor rural families,' Sundaram stressed.
The report is a compilation and analysis of available information retrieved through a literature search and consultation with organizations and experts in livestock and child labour.
The findings of the publication are expected to feed into the third Global Conference on Child Labour, to be held in Brazil in October.
Livestock is at least a partial source of income and food security for 70 percent of the world's 880 million rural poor who live on less than US$ 1 a day.
According to the study, many situations categorized by international norms as child labour take place in unregulated, smallholder agriculture.
'For centuries, pastoralist communities have involved their children with the family livestock; the future and survival of the pastoralist family relies on the transfer of complicated local knowledge from parent to child,' the study stated.
It added that 'There are strong signals that pastoralist communities recognize the importance of education for their children and very much appreciate sending their children to school if the education is of a good level and relevant to the pastoral way of life, and especially if schooling can be combined with child work in the herd.'