III. Child Labor In Commercial Agriculture
More of the world's working children are employed in agriculture than in any other sector. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), "it is likely that a majority of all work done by children is in agriculture." 1 The purpose of this chapter is to survey the use of children in commercial agricultural and fishing activities that export to the United States.2
The subject of child labor in agriculture has undergone little systematic analysis. Available information is often vague and incomplete. This chapter seeks to take a first step in understanding the use of children in commercial agriculture by surveying available government documents, reports, articles, accounts, studies, and other data in order to sketch a broad overview of the countries and industries in which children work, and the terms and conditions of their employment.
The first section of this chapter presents a summary of why children work, the jobs they perform, the terms under which they are hired, the conditions under which they work, and the relevant international law governing child labor in the agricultural sector. The second part of the chapter surveys the use of child labor in specific industries that export products to the United States.1. Overview and Scope
Most children in commercial agriculture work on a seasonal basis, often full-time as part of a family unit3 during the harvest and seeding seasons, but irregularly or on a part-time basis during the remainder of the year. Many of these children attend school when they are not working. It is not always known whether children regularly attend school in the non-harvest or seeding months.
Children working in commercial agriculture and fishing face a wide range of health and safety risks. Often forced to work in harsh conditions without protective clothing or safety equipment, many children are injured in the course of their work. Children also work extremely long hours without rest; fatigue makes them more susceptible to accidents. Dangerous working conditions, excessive physical strain, malnutrition, and regular exposure to disease-carrying animals and toxic chemicals lead to lung, skin, and respiratory diseases, back injuries, and permanent physical handicaps and deformities. Few children receive the medical care required to remedy these ailments.
Because many of these children work on an occasional basis, and because official statistics either do not count, or are unable to accurately count, seasonal workers, estimates of the total number of children working in commercial agriculture are difficult to ascertain. The use of child labor in agriculture is thus, to a large degree, invisible -- uncounted, often undocumented, and little understood.
International and some national laws sharply proscribe the use of children by commercial agricultural enterprises. In addition, most countries either promote or make compulsory primary education. Unfortunately, many governments do not enforce primary education laws or commit adequate resources for all children to attend school. This is particularly true in rural areas, where access to education is often limited. The important linkage between education and increased opportunities for children is stated succinctly by the ILO: "Enforcement of school attendance, particularly for girls, would go a long way towards eliminating child labour."4
For purposes of this study, the definition of child labor used is that of ILO Convention No. 138 on the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment and its accompanying Recommendation No. 146. Convention 138 establishes a basic minimum age of 15, but permits countries "whose economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed" to establish a minimum age of 14. Article 5, paragraph 3, specifically applies the Convention to "plantations and other agricultural undertakings mainly producing for commercial purposes, but excluding family and small-scale holdings producing for local consumption and not regularly employing hired workers."5
In accordance with the ILO approach, this study does not include children working on family farms -- land owned and cultivated by members of nuclear or extended families. Although the products grown on family farms are sometimes purchased by buyers who in turn sell them in international markets, their primary purpose is to support the families that operate them. Nor does the study include conditions of small cooperative farming arrangements that produce goods solely for local consumption, or other small-scale entities. Also excluded from this report are those situations in which (i) working children are able to attend school on a regular basis, and (ii) there is no evidence of jeopardy to the health and safety of the children who may be working outside of school hours.
Recognizing the importance of education and training as a means of alleviating poverty and raising economic standards of children, the thrust of the ILO standards is to permit children to work only in those circumstances where the nature and timing of their work does not interfere with their ability to gain a basic education. ILO Convention 138 directly ties a country's establishment of minimum age for work to the completion of compulsory schooling. Thus, Article 2 of Convention 138 requires a country's minimum age to be "not less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling." Article 7 of the Convention permits children 13 to 15 years of age to perform "light work" so long as such work does not:
This study also concentrates on those sectors and countries where children are subjected in their work to undue health or safety hazards. This also parallels the ILO approach. Article 3, paragraph 1 sets a minimum age of 18 for
The Convention requires that for those workers above the age of 16 but below the age of 18, national laws or regulations must ensure that the "health, safety and morals" of such young workers are "fully protected" and that they "have received adequate instruction or vocational training in the relevant branch of activity."9
The most economically significant form of commercial agriculture, in terms of size, revenues, and share of export markets, is the plantation. The definition of a plantation in this study is that of the ILO Committee on the Work of Plantations:10
Plantations employ approximately 20 million persons, or about 2 percent of the persons working in the agricultural sector in developing countries.12 According to the ILO, "(s)everal hundreds of thousands of children are reported to be working on plantations in various producer countries; they account for an estimated 7 to 12 percent of the total plantation wage labour force."13
There are many explanations for the use of child labor in agriculture. The use of child labor is usually the result of a need for intensive labor coupled with a readily available supply of labor that is cheap and easily controlled. Employers hire children because they are available in large numbers, and because, in the view of some employers, child workers are preferable to adults. While most agree that children should grow up in an environment that provides the best possible conditions of physical and mental growth, many factors compel children to enter the workforce. As a result, a large supply of children is often available to meet the demand.
Even in countries with high unemployment rates, children can be found working full time on farms and plantations while rural adult workers are unemployed. There are four principal reasons for this: children are plentiful in numbers in rural areas; they often already live on plantations or other farms; their labor can be had for a fraction of what is paid to adult workers; and they are considered to be more docile and more pliant than adult workers.
Studies of the causes of child labor in agriculture have found several, often overlapping reasons, why there is a supply of children for work on plantations and farms. The most significant causes are a real or perceived need on the part of families for income; a dearth of educational opportunities; an inability to pay for education or a belief that education is of little value; or situations of forced or bonded labor.15 Children are also found working on plantations after dropping out of school. They may be recruited to perform tasks their parents prefer not to do, or they can be found tending to younger siblings living on plantations while the parents work. Finally, some children work on plantations to earn their own income. In some cases mothers take their children to work with them in the fields because they have neither a safe place to leave them nor someone to care for them.
Poverty is the most often cited reason for the use of child labor in agriculture and fishing. Children most commonly work in poor rural agricultural regions in which families believe the employment of their children will increase total family income. Systems of remuneration based on weight/piece provide an incentive to use children to maximize earnings. Payment schemes that require a minimum amount of a crop to be collected in order for any wage to be paid also serve as an incentive for parents to employ their children. The contribution of a child's earnings to general family income has not been studied in detail.16 In situations where parents work for long hours in the fields, children are often required to perform domestic chores in their place.
While the employment of children may supplement family income in some instances, it may also contribute to keeping the children in poverty. A study of child labor on palm oil and rubber plantations in Malaysia concluded that children are "doubly pushed into menial labour: poor households need additional income from the extra working members, while the lack of affordable opportunities for further education and skill training means limited prospects for upward or outward mobility."17
A major factor contributing to the use of child labor is the lack of educational opportunities available to children in rural areas. Many plantations do not have schools on the premises. The long distances that must be travelled, often on foot, to attend the nearest school commonly preclude attendance. Even when schools are located nearby, children of poor families are frequently unable to pay school fees or purchase required school uniforms, books, and other school materials.
Parents' negative attitudes toward the usefulness of schooling also prevents the placement of children in schools. In many rural areas where farm work is the only job available, many parents perceive little utility in sending their children to school when they could be more useful to the family by working. Furthermore, many parents believe that children will receive more useful training by working on farms than they would in the classroom -- even if the work they perform actually provides little actual training in agricultural techniques.
While most children work as part of a family unit, children may also work so that "(p)arents can reduce their own work burdens through the use of their children's work."18
In other instances older children may opt to become employed against their parent's wishes, "rather than endure the `eternal apprenticeship' of long hours without remuneration under the control of parents."19 The lure of an independent salary also may cause older children to seek paying jobs rather than to work without compensation on their family farms.
Many children work because child labor has become an accepted norm within the social structure. Children growing up on farms are inculcated into a lifestyle centered around work at an early age and simply know no other way of life, particularly if schooling is not a possibility. In many agrarian societies children as young as 5 perform small tasks on the farm.
In some instances the use of child labor supports the reigning social and family value system; child labor is viewed as beneficial to the child, the family, and the society in general. In Indonesia, for example, the "Pancasila" ideology states a child's foremost duty is to help their parent.20 An ILO study of child labor in Indonesia notes that "cultural values in Indonesia accept and even encourage child employment as an educational process" that brings understanding of work, personal responsibility, self-discipline, and job satisfaction.21 Similar attitudes are common in many countries throughout the world.
Finally, society in general contributes to child labor through omission, indifference, a lack of awareness, or the acceptance of child labor as a natural and customary way of life.
In many cases, especially high concentrations of working children come from either specific castes, ethnic or religious minorities, or domestic and foreign migrant populations. In India, the great majority of working children are from lower caste families. In Malaysia, most of the children working on palm-oil and rubber plantations are Tamils, who descend from low-caste workers originally imported from India.22 In Argentina, many of the working children are Paraguayan and Bolivian; in Thailand's fishing industry many are Burmese; in Costa Rica, most are thought to be from Nicaragua. Children of native or tribal people also may be employed, such as the Burmese Karen in Thailand's fishing industry, or native Indians who pick sugar cane in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil. In Pakistan many of the working children may be minority Christians.
Government policies -- or lack thereof -- also contribute to the use of child labor in agriculture. In many countries, a lack of surveillance, enforcement, and intervention on the part of governments allows child labor to thrive. According to the ILO:
Even when violators are caught and prosecuted, penalties are often too small to induce employers to change their practices.
In many countries, governmental policies simply ignore the plight of children. Mandatory education laws, if they exist, are often disregarded in agricultural regions, and in many rural areas schools are simply too distant to be accessible. The ILO has stated, "Primary education facilities are available on most plantations, but are generally found insufficient to enable all children to attend school regularly and complete their primary education."24
Children working in agriculture are exposed to many hazards that imperil their safety and health. The ILO states that children working in agriculture "are at risk for two reasons other than being child workers:"
Even under the best conditions children in agriculture commonly suffer accidents, injuries and illnesses. As the ILO notes, "children suffer from long and arduous working hours, little health and safety protection and services, inadequate diets, rest and leisure, and are further denied education even where primary school attendance is possible."26
Working children often work with unsafe farm machinery and tools that they are not always able to operate safely. For example, some children who cut sugar cane use heavy machetes that they cannot wield properly and suffer various injuries as a result. When children perform chores that are simply too strenuous for them, such as carrying heavy or oversized loads of picked coffee, tea, tobacco, and other crops, they suffer from problems ranging from back injuries to permanent disabilities or deformities.
Children working on tropical plantations are regularly threatened by constant exposure to poisonous or disease-carrying insects and reptiles. They are particularly susceptible to endemic and parasitic diseases, dermatosis, and respiratory tract diseases. Fatigue is an ever present problem.27
Hygienic conditions on plantations are often substandard. Drinking water is often unsafe, sanitary facilities are frequently unclean, and medical facilities found on plantations, if they exist at all, are often inadequate to treat the illnesses and injuries suffered by children.
A particularly dangerous threat to children working on plantations is regular exposure to hazardous substances used in agriculture, such as toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The ILO, noting that the great majority of workers in the agricultural sector live in developing countries, states:
While some pesticides, such as DDT and other organochlorine compounds, have been banned in industrial countries, they are regularly used in developing countries.29 Although there are no doubt significant benefits from the use of agrochemicals, the effects of the use of these chemicals on child workers in many countries may be more dangerous as a result of climatic conditions, precarious working conditions, inadequate or even non-existent medical facilities, ineffective or understaffed regulatory bodies, and general ignorance of the hazards involved in handling pesticides.30 An ILO study of the use of agrochemicals states that "(i)ndustrialized countries use 80 percent of the world's agrochemicals but probably suffer only 1 per cent or less of all deaths due to pesticide poisoning; developing countries, on the other hand, suffer 99 per cent of all such deaths while using only 20 per cent of the world's agrochemicals."31
The effects of these safety and health hazards may be far more severe to children than to adults. A recent study on children in hazardous work states:
Children working in the commercial agricultural sector are employed under many different terms and circumstances.
In some instances, children are hired as wage laborers and are employed on a full time basis. While children hired in this manner usually perform the same work as adult workers, only in rare instances do they receive the same wages as their adult counterparts; more commonly the wages they are paid are one-half to one-third below those paid to adults.33
The majority of children working on commercial farms do so as part of a family unit. The main incentive for parents to use children is the use of compensation systems that pay workers by the weight or quantity of the product collected. By using their children, parents are able to increase the amount collected and thereby increase earnings. Sometimes, minimum amounts of a product must be collected in order for any compensation to be paid, in which case the contributions of children can be critical. While children's earnings can in some instances significantly enhance family income, more frequently their contribution is a small percentage of the family's earnings.
Even when they are not engaged in full-time farm work, children may also support the economic life of the plantation by taking care of younger children, performing domestic tasks and chores, and taking care of their family's animals and vegetable plots. By doing these jobs, farm and plantation operators are relieved of having to provide child-care facilities, and adult workers are freed up to devote more of their time to farm work.
There has been a dramatic rise throughout the world in the use of contract labor, whereby plantation owners and managers contract labor for a limited period of time or for a particular job. Plantations owners tend to benefit from the use of contract labor, as it relieves them of the burden of recruiting, overseeing, and paying the workers. But the system has many negative consequences for children. Their families move frequently, often to several locations in the course of a year. On the job, they often receive neither compensation, medical care, overtime pay, rest breaks, rest days, nor education. Because contract workers often do not live on plantations, working children must often spend many hours each day commuting to work along with their parents.
It is difficult to generalize about the amount and quality of education received by children working in the agricultural sector. The quality of schools can vary dramatically, even in a given area. Differing populations on a particular farm or plantation may follow differing educational paths. The location or size of a farm or plantation rarely serves as a clue to the quality or amount of education children receive. Few meaningful statistics are kept on school attendance in rural areas, and even those that exist provide little insight into the quality of the education children receive.
Still, some general tendencies appear evident. For the most part, children living in more geographically remote regions usually have lesser opportunities to attend schools, and the quality of the education usually is inferior to that received by urban counterparts. While many rural children attend primary (elementary) schools, most drop out either during or upon completion of primary school. Teachers are often scarce in rural areas. Many governments take few steps to enforce their own mandatory education laws outside of more heavily populated urban areas.
Many large plantations and farms operate their own schools. The quality of these varies greatly: some meet or exceed government educational standards, while others offer minimal educations and structure school schedules to maximize the amount of time that students can devote to working in the fields. Schools on commercial farms in Zimbabwe, for example, have shorter class hours than other schools so children can work, and at times when labor is needed owners will pay children to work in lieu of remaining in the classroom.34
Where schools do not exist on the premises, children must often walk long distances to attend schools, if any are accessible at all. Many rural parents often believe that their education is not useful and seek to curtail their children's schooling at an early age.
Children in what appear to be very similar circumstances may encounter very differing educational opportunities. Children working on tea plantations in hilly areas of West Bengal, in India, tend to attend either government schools or schools run by missionaries. Children on tea plantations in the plains have fewer available schools and tend to drop out by the third grade.35
Even on a given plantation, different groups of children may be offered differing educational opportunities. In Negros, in the Philippines, the children of skilled plantation workers attend school full time and work in their free time; the children of unskilled plantation workers and the children of migrants working on the same plantation do not receive any schooling.36
Working often has a strong negative impact on education. Children who attend school and work are often fatigued and unable to concentrate in the classroom or do homework.
Almost no research has been done on the education of the children of migrant agricultural workers. Because they regularly move from one plantation or region to another, schooling opportunities may change with each move. For the most part, they attend school in their home village, but this is often disrupted by constant moves. Migrant children usually work with their parents as part of a family unit, and rarely attend school on the farms or plantations where their parents work. Few governments have addressed the problem.
Harsh geography, in the form of rain forest and desert, makes the establishment of commercial farming virtually impossible in much of Africa. War has shut down other once-large exporters, such as Liberia's rubber plantations and the coffee plantations of Rwanda. In much of the rest of the continent, agriculture is undertaken on small communal or family farms that grow crops for home use or local consumption.
The plantations in Africa that produce for export are situated mainly in two geographical regions: the coastal countries of West Africa and the countries of the East African plateau, running from the highlands of Ethiopia to South Africa. The major products grown on these plantations are coffee, cocoa, cotton, rice, rubber, sisal, tea, and vanilla. Fruits and vegetables are commercially produced in South Africa.
Working conditions for children on African farms are extremely harsh. As one author notes, "(c)limatic conditions quickly induce fatigue; there is a constant danger from insects, reptiles and other animals; the ground is hard and tools primitive; distances to be travelled are sometimes very great; working hours are long; and the overall picture can be even worse if the children themselves are not in good health."37
Plantations and farms in Africa often hire children directly as contract workers. In Tanzania, for example, it has been reported that primary school age children, some as young as six years old, have been recruited for plantation work by owners of commercial farms, who send trucks to collect workers between November and May, the peak agricultural period.38 A 1992 account from the Northern Transvaal, in South Africa, tells "of some children trucked in from outside farms being selected by lot for rape by adult workers on the host farm.39 Farmers in South Africa also reportedly contract with tribal chiefs in the Transkei region to hire children. All of the payments go to the chiefs.40
In Zimbabwe, many large plantations, including some owned by the government, require children to work during the harvest season in order to remain in school. In November 1990, students living on farms in Chipinge and Chisumbange were reportedly forced by the government to pick cotton during the harvesting season. The students claimed they were told that a refusal to work would result in their not being allowed to attend classes.41 In June 1995 children were photographed working in cotton fields of a government-owned farm in Bulilimamange District. Despite protests by parents, the farm management insisted that children work on weekends in order to finance the school. Those children who did not show up for work on the weekend were required to work during school hours.42
The use of child labor appears to be significant in South Africa, though research on the subject has been limited. Children are reported to work on farms that produce fruit and vegetables, grapes for wine, maize, sugar cane, and tobacco.43 The ILO estimated in 1987 that more than 60,000 black children between 8 and 14 years of age were employed as laborers on South African farms.44 Prior to 1994, government labor inspectors were not permitted to enter private commercial farms and were thus prevented from enforcing labor laws or assessing conditions.45
In Kenya, children pick coffee berries during the harvest season. Younger children work alongside their parents -- usually their mothers -- while older children often work independently.46 By one estimate, children comprise 58 percent of the coffee plantation work force during peak seasons and 18 percent of the work force during the rest of the year.47
Because workers are paid according to quantity, children are called upon to assist their mothers to pick coffee and fill the coffee bags. Even with such assistance, earnings are barely sufficient to buy food. Once the children begin working they rarely return to school. In addition, many boys migrate to the cities by the time they reach the ages of 11-13.48
While some child workers live on the plantations, others either walk to work or are picked up by trucks between 5:30-6:30 a.m. and return at 5:00-7:00 p.m.49 Protective clothing and safety devices are not regularly issued; children who climb taller coffee trees to collect beans sometimes fall.50 Children are generally malnourished and suffer from many health problems.51
In 1994, U.S. imports of Kenyan coffee totalled $15 million.
In Madagascar and Uganda, children work on a seasonal basis, usually assisting in picking and sorting coffee beans during the harvest season.52 In Côte d'Ivoire, children work on medium-sized coffee plantations. They sort through the beans and select those that are useable, strip coffee beans from the trees, and pick up beans that fall off the ground cloth used to collect them.53 More research is need to determine the conditions of work, ages of children, and primary school enrollment.
In 1994 the United States imported $5 million of coffee from Madagascar, $34 million from Uganda, and $8 million from Côte d'Ivoire.
In Zimbabwe, children are employed to pick cotton for six weeks during the harvest season. Because wages paid are extremely low, even many unemployed persons elect not to seek employment, leaving either migrant families or children to take the jobs.54
Heads of households are hired or contracted by plantation owners to pick, weed, and harvest cotton. They usually bring their wives and children along with them. Because seasonal and migrant workers are paid by the task or by the piece, families have a strong incentive to use their children to boost production.
Some commercial and small-scale farms have resident workers. Farm owners usually provide workers with housing, schooling, and banking services. Many workers spend their entire lives on one plantation. While women traditionally picked the cotton, in recent years children have increasingly performed this task.
In 1994, the United States imported $5 million of woven cotton fabric from Zimbabwe.
South Africa is the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in Africa, and child labor is frequently used on South African farms. Child labor can be found in the Western Cape, around Kalitsdorp; in the agriculturally rich areas near Stellenbosch and Paarl; and in the Orange Free State. Children are also reported to farm asparagus on the Lesotho border.55
Children are frequently used on a short-term basis in the harvesting season. A team leader will hire the children, who are usually 10 years old and above, thus enabling the farm owners themselves to deny responsibility for knowing the ages of the children or the terms under which they were hired.56
Also in South Africa, there are reports of Mozambican refugee children who are recruited by local farmers, put to work and then reported to the police for deportation as illegal aliens when payment for their labor becomes due.57
In 1994 the United States imported $22 million of fruits and vegetables from South Africa.
Children are regularly employed picking jasmine in Egypt.58 Between July and October, recruiters take children from villages in the Nile Delta to gather the flowers in the middle of the night, when the essence is purest. Recruiters prefer small children, because their small hands better enable them to pick delicate single flowers. The children work barefoot in the mud and must rely on their sense of touch as there is no light. The children work 9 hour shifts without eating or stopping until the morning sun grows too strong. The children are paid 3 Egyptian pounds per day. If the children stop work for any reason -- for example, to avoid swarms of mosquitos -- they may be caned by the recruiter.59
Imports of jasmine from Egypt by the United States in 1994 were $75,000.
There are reports of some children working on large rubber plantations in Côte d'Ivoire. The children have been observed helping their parents to dig holes and plant seeds in the nurseries and in some cases assisting in the collection process. Children work as part of their family units and are not directly compensated.60 More information is needed to determine the extent of child labor in Ivoirian rubber plantations.
U.S. imports of rubber from Côte d'Ivoire in 1994 totalled $8 million.
In Tanzania many children aged 12-14 are employed in the sisal industry, where they cultivate the immature sisal, transplant it once the plants have reached the required height, and weed it throughout the year. The weeding is done almost exclusively by children. Children also carry wet sisal fibers from the machines that strip the leaves to the drying lines, and collect the short fibers that are ejected from the brushing machines.61
On one plantation, children composed 30 percent of the workforce. They work up to 11 hours per day, 6 days per week, with no regular or specified rest periods. Their earnings are approximately one-half those of adults, not enough to adequately pay for lodging and food.62 A survey of the children working on the plantation found that 12 percent had never gone to school; 38 percent dropped out of primary school; and 50 percent had completed primary school. None received education beyond primary school.63
Sisal production is hazardous. Children regularly work under the hot sun and during rain without protective clothing. Continuous inhalation of sisal fibers and air-borne dust from the brushing machines causes byssinosis, a lung disease. When carrying wet sisal fibers, children are exposed to the sisal liquid, which irritates the skin and causes severe itching. During weeding, children are injured by the sharp needle points of the sisal plants.64
In Kenya, some migrant children work in the sisal industry, usually for friends and relatives who are hired as subcontractors by plantation operators.65
In 1994 the United States imported $3 million of sisal from Tanzania and $74,000 from Kenya.
In the Côte d'Ivoire, children work alongside their parent on both large and small sugar cane plantations. Children perform tasks such as stacking the cut cane, while young teenagers sometimes assist in harvesting the cane.66
In 1994 the United States imported over $3 million of sugar from Côte d'Ivoire.
Tea estates in Zimbabwe employ a large number of children, often 10-12 years old, on a part-time, contract basis. They are paid according to the amount of tea picked. A study of child labor on tea estates in Manicaland found that child workers begin their work day at 5:30 a.m., walk 5-8 kilometers to the tea fields, and work until 11:30 a.m. When they finish picking the tea leaves, they carry the sacks of leaves to the weighing station; they then are permitted to go to school, which begins at 1:00 p.m. If they fail to pick the minimum daily load they are forced to work a half day on Saturday as punishment.67 The clinic staff on one tea plantation found there were "frequent cases of children with abdominal pains and cuts in the hands and legs from tea picking."68 The children suffer exhaustion and an inability to concentrate at school as a result of this schedule. In addition, they suffer frequent abdominal pains from tea picking. The sharp edges of the tea leaves cause cuts on their hands and feet. Children commonly suffer lacerations and callouses on their plucking fingers, known as "tea ulcers."69
In 1994 the United States imported $46,000 of tea from Zimbabwe.
Children are employed as casual laborers on tobacco plantations in Zimbabwe. They work during the peak harvest season, which lasts 1-3 months per year, and during vacations. Children who weed and plant tobacco are reported to suffer reactions from the use of ethylene dibromide. Children working in tobacco grading sheds are exposed to steam, smoke and dust, which can cause asthma. They are also exposed to heat and fire from boilers inside the sheds.70
In 1994 the United States imported $30 million of tobacco from Zimbabwe.
In South Africa, some children are reported to work on tobacco farms.71 Children on tobacco farms in the eastern Transvaal have been seen and photographed spreading pesticides with their bare hands.72
In 1993 a South African newspaper, the City Press, found children as young as 9 years old working on tobacco farms at Hekpoort, in the West Rand, working for 30 Rand per week (approximately $10). One 9 year old girl packing tobacco leaves -- one of 20 found working in a hot, dark, smoke-filled packing room -- told the newspaper that she had never attended school and said she could not even remember when she had begun to work on the farm. She said she worked from 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., 5 days per week.73
In 1994 the United States imported $4 million of tobacco from South Africa.
In Madagascar, children are employed in small-scale private farms, mostly along the Eastern Coast, that produce vanilla. Children aged 10 and older nip the flowers of the vanilla orchid, usually from 4:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. in the morning. They also harvest the raw vanilla bean. Children earn 500 FMG (12 cents) per day. Child labor tends to be most prominent where there are no schools. The largest enterprises do not employ children, as high unemployment allows these producers to hire adult laborers at low wages.74
In 1994 the United States imported $32 million of vanilla beans from Madagascar.
Most of the world's working children live in Asia, and the majority of these children work in the agricultural sector. Children in Asia can be found performing virtually all types of farm work.
A 1995 report by the Indian Commission on Labor Standards states that, "(e)ven on a conservative estimate, India has the largest number of urban and rural child workers in the world."75 The report acknowledges at least 18.6 million working children in 1990, but notes that private organizations have placed the figure at between 44 million to over 100 million.76 Of the total, the report estimates that 85 percent work in agriculture and related activities.77 This figure does not distinguish between children working on plantations and children working on family farms. Children in India work on plantations producing products such as tea, coffee, cashew nuts, tobacco, cardamom, cinchona (quinine), natural rubber, and in the fish processing industry.78
Other Asian countries also have large numbers of children working in the agricultural sector. UNICEF and the Government of Pakistan estimate that there are 3 million children working in Pakistan's agricultural sector.79 A 1989 Labor Force Survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics found that 81.9 percent of the country's 6.1 million economically active children worked in the agricultural sector.80
In Nepal, children living on tea plantations prune, replant, sow, and weed.81 In Bangladesh children are reported to work on tea and tobacco plantations.82 Children on Sri Lanka's tea plantations weed and pluck tea leaves; on rubber plantations they weed and tap the rubber trees for latex; and on coconut estates children gather and collect nuts, and weed.83
In Indonesia, an estimated 82.4 percent of boys and 64.8 percent of the girls between 10-14 work in the agricultural sector.84 Children in Indonesia work on palm, rubber, tea, and tobacco plantations.85 NGOs in Malaysia estimate that 20 percent of the working children in the country are employed in commercial agriculture.86 An estimated 85 percent of the child workers in Thailand work in agriculture.87 It is reported that children aged 12-15 are commonly recruited for work on sugar cane and rubber plantations in Thailand.88
The ILO estimates that 18 percent of the child workers aged 5-14 living in rural areas in the Philippines are wage laborers, many of whom are employed as farm workers.89 Children in the Philippines are employed in various agricultural enterprises, including fruit and vegetable farms, rice and corn production, poultry farms, sugar plantations, animal care, fishing, and copra making.90
Children working on tea plantations in India assist their parents to pluck and sort tea leaves and carry baskets of harvested tea. Most of the plantations are located in the states of Assam and West Bengal.91 Estimates of the number of children working on plantations in these two states vary from 21,000 to 77,000.92
The demand for labor on tea plantations is highly seasonal. During the plucking and harvesting season, June-September, children frequently accompany their parents -- usually their mothers -- to work in the fields. They help to sort leaves and carry baskets of plucked leaves.93 The former chairman of the Tea Board in West Bengal described life on the plantation:
During the harvest season, children have sufficient time to attend school if schools are available.95 Most of the children, however, drop out of school at ages 9-10 and spend the non-harvest period pruning bushes and performing other chores.
Because of the high seasonal demand during the harvest period, tea plantations employ many migrant workers. The migrant workers bring their families to work on the plantations. Many of the children are under 12 years old.96
In 1994 the United States imported $7 million of tea from India.97
Children can be found working on vegetable farms in the Cordillera region of the Philippines, an area that encompasses the northern section of the island of Luzon. A 1990 UNICEF-sponsored study reported that children work 10 hours per day from Monday through Saturday with only short breaks and half a day on Sunday. The children earn 25 pesos (approximately $0.95) daily, less than the minimum wage and less than half the pay of adult workers. The study found a correlation between the physical strain of the work, the constant exposure to natural elements, toxic pesticides, and other chemicals with retarded growth, disease, and malnutrition.98
Children on vegetable farms in the Benguet Province in the Philippines work 8-10 hours per day, Monday-Saturday.99 They weed, cultivate, turn soil, fix canals, harvest, and apply pesticides.100 The children are paid much less than their adult counterparts.101 Children suffer from muscle strain and fatigue, and are exposed to harmful pesticides.102
U.S. imports of vegetables from the Philippines totalled $550,000 in 1994.
In Malaysia children can be found working on palm oil plantations, where they assist their parents to collect loose fruit, help carry and load bunches of oil palm fruit, and weed the oil palm fields.103 One report estimates that 60 percent of the children working on palm oil plantations in Malaysia are 6 to 10 years old.104 Another survey found that only 16 percent of the palm oil plantations provide schooling.105 Workers on palm oil plantation must collect 1.5-2 tons of palm fruit each day.106 For workers to successfully meet their daily quota of palm fruit collection, notes one study, "assistance from the child worker is the savior."107
U.S. imports of palm oil from Malaysia in 1994 totalled $56 million.
Children on rubber plantations in Malaysia mark rubber trees, tap rubber trees, collect latex, clean latex cups, spray pesticides, and work in factories on the plantations. They also perform many supporting tasks related to rubber production.108 Virtually all of the children are members of ethnic Indian families whose descendants were brought to Malaysia by the British as indentured servants at the turn of the century.109
Most of the children work as part of a family unit, assisting their parents to tap the trees and clean the latex cups. One survey found that 92 percent of households on four rubber estates had at least one child below the age of 15 working, and that only 8 percent of the households in rubber estates did not send their children to work.110 The major reason cited by parents for using their children is a requirement that workers tap at least 600-700 trees per day in order to receive the daily wage. This is more easily achieved by recruiting as many family members as possible to tap the trees.111 Most children themselves do not directly receive their earnings.112
Children who tap rubber with their parents usually work 7 days per week, 8 hours per day. Rubber tapping begins early in the morning, usually at 5:30 a.m., and continues until 3:00 p.m. Many children who clean the latex cups may be under 14 years of age.113
Injuries in the rubber industry are common: in one report, 15 percent of the children interviewed suffered injuries, mostly from tapping knives, fallen branches, bee stings, falling machinery, and cuts from broken glass.114 Children are regularly exposed to hazardous pesticides and thorny plants. They rarely wear footwear and are susceptible to insect and leech-bites, as well as to mosquitos that carry the deadly "Dengue" disease. Because they generally do not wear protective clothing, children are also bitten by poisonous snakes and stung by hornets, scorpions, and centipedes. Children's eyes are not protected from chips of wood and flying dirt caused by drilling holes in the trees.115
While many children still work on rubber plantations, the numbers appear to be diminishing as employers are increasingly replacing domestic with foreign labor, especially from Indonesia. Most of the foreign workers do not have their children with them.116
In 1994 the United States imported $138 million of natural rubber from Malaysia.
Children on sugar plantations in Ormoc City and Negros Occidental in the Philippines weed, cut cane, and apply fertilizers. Some children and adolescents operate horse rigs in the sugar fields, a job that can be strenuous and entails long hours of work.117 In Negros, children begin to weed the fields when they are as young as 7-8 years old, and begin to cut the cane at age 12. The children who work are children of unskilled resident plantation workers and children of migrants who regularly move from plantation to plantation.118 Among the hazards that exist for children on sugar plantations are injuries from using sharp knives, and poisoning from the use of dangerous fertilizers.119
In 1994, the Philippines exported $45 million of sugar to the United States.
Deceptive recruiting of children and debt bondage occurs in connection with sugar cane plantations in Thailand, mainly in the province of Kanchanaburi. Children and adults are recruited through intermediaries for the plantations; the workers are enticed into taking loans, becoming entrapped in debt bondage.120
The United States imported $6 million of cane sugar from Thailand in 1994.
In Thailand, children are involved in all stages of the fishing industry. A study of 427 children and adolescents working in 44 fishing enterprises in Samut Sakhon province, a center of the fishing industry located approximately 25 miles southwest of Bangkok, found that 48 percent were aged 14 or under; over 85 percent of the workers had started to work at age 14 or younger.121 Of the working children who lived in the area, about 80 percent were girls.122 Nearly 90 percent worked full time and 62 percent earned their own income.123 Moreover, the researchers observed that many children as young as 5 or 6 years old accompanied their parents or other relatives for the purpose of working.124
Most of the children surveyed (71 percent) clean, bone, and skin fish; shell squid, mussels, shrimp and crab; and wash squid to remove the ink. Other children sort, weigh, check, and load the fish; process seafood; work on fishing boats; build boats; and work on the docks.125 Salaries range from an average of 541 Baht per month (approximately $22.00) for boat building to 1,682 Baht per month (approximately $69.00) for sorting, weighing, checking, and loading the fish. The average wage paid for cleaning fish is 873 Baht per month (approximately $36.00), for cleaning and shelling seafood, 764 Baht per month (approximately $31.00).126 As children gain more experience cleaning and shelling fish, they earn more, because they are paid by the piece.127
The children who shell seafood generally squat on the floor or sit on a small bench for the duration of the working day, which can last 15 hours or longer. Children of all ages use sharp knives or shelling tools, and suffer frequent cuts and scrapes. Because they work with salt water and fish all day, many children suffer from skin diseases on their hands. Protective gloves are not used because they slow the pace of work. Many children take off 2 or 3 days each month because of hand problems.128
In some enterprises, children begin work at 1:00 - 2:00 a.m., and work until after 6:00 p.m. Over half the children work 10 hours per day or more.129 Enterprises that specialize in chopping fish are often open 24 hours per day. Some women bring their children and work 3-4 days consecutively without stopping. In approximately half of the fishing enterprises studied, children work every day of the week. Most of the children who do attend school work only on weekends, but crab shelling takes place every day after school and on weekends.130
There are many migrant workers aged 12-15 in the Thai fishing industry. Migrant workers often outnumber resident workers. Some firms hire only migrant workers. The migrant workers salt and ferment fish, make fish cakes and shrimp and fish balls, and shell mussels. The workers usually live at their place of work. Among the migrant workers are refugees and migrants (with no legal status) from Burma, including ethnic Karens, who receive no compensation. They work solely in return for food and housing.131
Children in Thailand also work in deep sea fishing operations. The 1985 Marine Fishery Census of Thailand found 2,442 children aged 11-14, of whom 687 worked for commercial fishing operations while the rest worked for their families. Children begin their training by acting as divers, a job older fishermen choose not to perform because it is too dangerous. The children dive into the sea to close the mouth of the net and stay with the net until it is hauled in. Hazards include drowning, getting caught under the nets, injuries caused by hauling rope, and injuries from malfunctioning equipment. The boats, which usually stay at sea for 20-25 days at a time, often have poor sanitary facilities and unhealthy conditions.132
In 1994 the United States imported $829 million of shrimp, and $51 million of fresh and processed fish and other seafood from Thailand.
Children are reported to work in Bangladesh's shellfish industry. In Chittagong and Cox's Bazar, in southeastern Bangladesh, large numbers of children can be found on the beaches collecting shrimp "fry" for cultivation by shrimp farms. Children are also reported to work in factories in Chulna (southwestern Bangladesh) shelling shrimp and crabs and possibly packing for freezing.133
Imports of shrimp from Bangladesh by the United States in 1994 totalled $98 million.
Situations of forced labor of children occur in the fishing industries of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, India, and Pakistan.
Young boys are exploited in forced labor on offshore fishing platforms off the coast of Northern Sumatra in Indonesia.134 There are an estimated 700 to 1500 platforms in the region, employing three to ten children each. The age of the boys on these platforms ranges from 10 to 18.135 They are recruited by contract agents who promise parents that their sons will be employed in well-paying jobs. The children are then held as virtual prisoners for up to three months at a time. They are sometimes sexually abused. Children are known to attempt escape by jumping off the platforms and swimming to nearby fishing boats.136
The fishing platforms, often poorly constructed, are from 1 to 30 kilometers off-shore and range in size from 50 feet wide and 100 feet long. The children, usually supervised by one or two adults, throw fishing nets into the water and haul them onto the platforms, where the fish is then dried. The platforms often have holes, and it is not uncommon for the children to fall through these holes into the water.137
Several non-governmental organizations are actively trying to combat the use of bonded child labor on fishing platforms and have launched public awareness campaigns and even attempted to rescue children from the platforms. One organization managed to bring some platform owners to court in 1994 but its efforts failed when the parents of the victims dropped the case.138
United States imports of fresh and processed fish from Indonesia were $27 million in 1994.
The International Labor Organization has noted reports of bonded children working in fishing camps on small islands off the northwestern and eastern coasts of Sri Lanka. More recent reports state that children perhaps are no longer employed in the fishing camps.139 In the past, it has been alleged that boys have been removed from their parents for small sums of money -- even kidnapped in some cases -- by unscrupulous recruiters. The boys were used as forced labor in fishing camps; exposed to the elements, they were forced to clean, salt, and dry fish for up to 17 hours a day.140 Older boys hauled in fishing nets. Police sources indicated that the children were "kept in conditions of virtual slavery" -- badly nourished, verbally and physically abused by employers and other workers in the camps, and receiving no wages.141 Due to ongoing political conflict in the regions where some fishing camps are reported to operate, the current status of the children is unknown.
In 1994 the United States imported $310,000 of fresh and processed fish from Sri Lanka.
Child labor is also used in India's fishing industry. Approximately 20,000 children are reported to work in fish freezing and processing plants in Kerala. According to the Centre of Concern for Child Labour, children also work in fisheries, where boys are used "in loading and unloading and in skinning of the fish." They work from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., and are paid on a piece-rate basis.142
A recent report from India documents the incidence of bonded child labor in seafood cleaning factories. In February 1995 the Bombay Times described a seafood factory in Ratnagiri, India, a coastal city approximately 100 miles south of Bombay, that employs 30 girls who clean fish and shrimp continuously for 12 hours per day. Young girls were lured from Kerala and Tamil Nadu with promises of good jobs in Bombay, but were instead taken by private bus to seafood factories where they were forced to work under harsh conditions. The Times reported that in the area around Ratnagiri there has been a boom in the number of child workers in marine products and canning factories, but that the district administration and police have largely ignored the problem.143
Parents received an advance of 400 rupees (approximately $12.00) from a recruiter, which was deducted from the girls' earnings. For a period of 3 months while the debt was being paid off, the girls received no salary. The girls were paid Rs. 1.50 (approximately $0.04) for each basket of fish they cleaned. One girl stated that she could clean no more than five baskets of fish per day. Often she was so tired she had to take a day of unpaid leave.144
The rescue of an 11 year-old girl by her brother brought the situation to public attention. Upon her rescue, she was hospitalized and medically determined to be malnourished. The skin on the palms of her hands had changed color from an infection caused by prolonged exposure to salt water.145
In 1994 the United States imported $122 million of shrimp, and $27 million of other fresh and processed fish and seafood from India.
In the Philippines, many boys work as fishermen, while other children, mostly girls, work in fish processing plants. On the island of Basilan and in Masbate, boys work on fishing boats that stay out at sea all night. In Masbate children as young as 7 dry, clean, and sort fish. Children as young as 5 gather fish that have been left to dry.146
A form of debt bondage based on a contract system of payment occurs in the Muro-ami fishing industry in the Philippines. Muro-ami fishing, introduced in the Philippines by the Japanese in the 1930s, is a labor intensive form of fishing, where hundreds of swimmers and divers maneuver a net to catch reef fish that cannot easily be harvested by other means. Muro-ami accounts for some two percent of the Philippines' total annual fish output.147
Muro-ami operates on a contract-type system where fishermen are paid at the completion of a ten-month period at sea.148 Fishermen are not paid until the completion of their contract. They are compelled to take advances from the master-fishermen to provide for their families in their absence. These advances are deducted from their final pay, an amount which is based on total sales. The recruits are bound to conditions of credit set by the master-fishermen, who have direct charge over them on board. Documents which stipulate conditions of credit, if provided, are written in legal terminology and are generally poorly understood by recruits. In other cases, agreements are oral.149
Deductions from pay are also routinely taken to compensate for the cost of food, cooks' salaries, equipment rentals and maintenance and medical expenses. If a worker is sick for a day, a commensurate amount of wages is deducted from his pay. Fishermen are paid out of any remaining profits according to their rank and performance. While deductions usually range from 30 to 40 percent of total pay, there are reported cases where deductions amount to over 100 percent of pay due -- forcing the fishermen to join the operation for another ten months in order to pay off their debts.150
Muro-ami fishing in the Philippines is generally considered a good source of income, and fathers often take two or three sons -- sometimes as young as seven to nine years old -- with them during the 10-month period. The majority of the swimmers and divers -- the most physically dangerous tasks -- are children between the ages of 12 and 14. They have no diving equipment other than wooden goggles, and injuries such as ruptured eardrums are common. The boys are also in danger from shark attacks. The boats from which they dive and on which they live are overcrowded and unsanitary.151
In 1988 a report stated that approximately 15 percent of the workers on each ship were below 15 years old.152 A 1995 report stated that while boys were once hired in great numbers for the Muro-Ami operations, recent press reports and inspections indicate that the participation of children has since dwindled to a relative handful. This change has reportedly come about through pressure maintained by national civic groups, community mobilization, cooperation by international organizations such as the ILO and UNICEF, and stepped up enforcement of the minimum age of 18 for employment in the industry.153
U.S. imports of fresh and processed fish from the Philippines were $8 million in 1994.
Entire families are entrapped in bondage in fishing operations in Rawalpindi in northern Pakistan.154 Contractors who are licensed to fish in water reservoirs or other areas hire fishermen and advance them loans to pay for boats and fishing nets. These loans become an instrument of bondage, with the entire family becoming engaged in the work -- boys help with the fishing while girls repair and maintain the nets. The families are at the disposal of the contractor and are required to move from one area to another according to his orders.155
U.S. imports of fresh and processed fish from Pakistan were $430,000 in 1994.
Indigenous Dumagat families in the Central Luzon region of the Philippines work gathering rattan under conditions of debt bondage. Under the "tabong" system, a tabong, or merchant, advances money to Dumagat families in return for their labor. In 1991, Anti-Slavery International documented the situation of one-hundred Dumagat families working under the tabong system. Children were found to be working along with their parents, laboring...
Tabongs often transfer debts among themselves; when this occurs the debts usually increase.157 In 1994, Anti-Slavery International indicated that the debt bondage of Dumagat communities continued to occur.158
The United States imported $8,000 of rattan from the Philippines in 1993. U.S. imports of rattan furniture from the Philippines in 1994 were worth $22 million.
Child labor is widespread on tobacco plantations in Bangladesh. Among other tasks, boys under 14 help spray chemical fertilizers on the fields. Girls help their mothers dry, cut, and pack the tobacco leaves.159 In 1994, the United States imported $546,000 of tobacco from Bangladesh.
In Indonesia's tobacco industry, children work both on plantations and in factories. In one factory, children reportedly comprised 30 percent of the 1500 person work force.160 The United States imported $11 million of tobacco from Indonesia in 1994.
In Malaysia, children working on cocoa plantations pick and split pods and scoop the beans. They also climb cocoa trees and pluck pods from low branches.161 In 1994 the United States imported $40 million of cocoa products from Malaysia.
Children in India work on cashew farms, sorting the fruits and separating the nuts from fruits. Other children shell and process whole cashews imported from East Africa.162 One estimate is that 20,000 children are engaged in processing cashews.163 Because the industry is seasonal, children do not work full-time. Imports of cashews from India by the United States totalled $175 million in 1994.164
Child labor in agriculture in Latin America is found principally in Mexico, Central America, the Andean region, and inland areas of Argentina and Brazil.
In Guatemala, over 300,000 people, mostly from the country's highland region, migrate every year to the southern coast to work on coffee, sugar cane, cardamom and cotton plantations. It is estimated that roughly 27 to 32 percent of the migrants are children. They live in substandard housing and are frequently malnourished. Children between the ages of 12-14 do the same work as adults but are paid one-half as much.165
The pledging of children's labor by parents is reported to occur in commercial vegetable farming in Honduras. Parents receive a pay advance and commit their children to future work. The practice is estimated to affect only a small number of children -- less than one percent of child agricultural workers.166 Children are also reported to work on coffee plantations in Honduras.
In El Salvador children frequently work alongside their parents in commercial agriculture, especially during planting and harvesting seasons.167 Anecdotal reports from Costa Rica suggest that children have a "noticeable presence" in some non-traditional export industries such as ornamental flowers and chili peppers.168
Approximately 3 million children between the ages of 10 and 14 are reported to be working in rural areas of Brazil.169 They work on sugar cane, tea, tobacco, and sisal plantations, and extract resin in the forests. Most agricultural child labor is found in Brazil's poorer northeastern states, but child labor is also found in wealthier states such as São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Parana.170
In the 1980s, Brazilian agriculture underwent a major transformation. Large-scale plantations became increasingly mechanized and export-oriented, and land became increasingly concentrated in the hands of large agricultural businesses. Both resident workers on plantations and small farmers expelled from their land joined the ranks of migrant and temporary workers that became known as "bóias-frias" or "volantes."171 Because the earnings of many families diminished considerably, they increasingly employed children to bolster family income.172 Today, child "bóias-frias" and "volantes" comprise a large number of Brazil's child workers.
In Argentina, a small number of children under the age of 14 work with their parents harvesting fruits and vegetables. Many of these child workers are illegal immigrants from Bolivia and Paraguay. Children are also reported to work on plantations that produce tobacco, tea, and soy.173
Child labor has traditionally been found in rural areas of the Andean region.174 In rural Ecuador, school attendance tapers off at about 10 years of age as children work as farm laborers to support their household's income. Some children in Ecuador reportedly work on commercial agricultural enterprises that produce bananas and cut flowers.175
Child labor is also heavily used in Peru's agricultural sector.176 A 1992 report by the Peruvian Government estimated that 7.5 million children under 15 were employed.177 One estimate is that child agricultural workers make up approximately 70 percent of the total child work force. There are reports of children who migrate to work on the coast. These children work 10-12 hours per day, 6 days per week, and are paid half the adult wage. They do not attend school.178
In Mexico, approximately 45 percent of all working minors (defined as ages 12-15) work in agriculture, mostly assisting their families.179 Children are used to harvest fruits and vegetables in many parts of the country, tobacco in Vera Cruz, and coffee and cheese in Chiapas.180 The percentage of the work force under 12 in Mexico's agricultural sector is not known.
In Guatemala, children as young as 6 or 8 assist their parents during the harvest season. They pick and sort beans, carry sacks of coffee, and sometimes handle fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides without proper health and safety equipment. Children work from 8 to 12 hours per day, often without legally required benefits such as July and Christmas bonuses, vacations, and severance pay.181
One report in 1990 found that men who traditionally picked coffee on plantations were being fired as permanent employees and replaced by women and children hired at less pay.182 Women and children reportedly receive about $0.50 per day, half the wage of adult men. Children begin to pick beans when they are old enough to reach the lower branches of trees and are able to determine which beans to pick. The report mentions that children as young as 6 years old picked and sorted the coffee beans. Boys also routinely carried sacks of beans weighing 75-150 pounds for several miles to the weighing stations. Researchers at one plantation found poor medical facilities, no schools, poor sanitary conditions, and a communal water supply that consisted of a single spigot.183
Recent reports, however, suggest that the use of children as full-time employees in Guatemala's coffee industry may be declining, as an increasing number of larger coffee farms are setting up schools, and in some cases, day care facilities.184
In 1994 the United States imported $225 million of coffee from Guatemala.
In Honduras, children as young as 6 are reported to work on coffee plantations in the planting and harvesting seasons.185 During the planting season, which lasts from June-August, children comprise approximately 20 percent of the labor force; in the harvesting season, which runs from November through February, children comprise 30-40 percent of the work force. Approximately 80-90 percent of the children work with their parents and are paid the same wage as adults, 11-12 lempiras per unit (one unit equals one gallon of beans).
In 1994 the United States imported $20 million of coffee from Honduras.
In Mexico's Bajio Valley, 200 miles north of Mexico City, children working barefoot in wet mud pick strawberries. Most of the harvesting is done during the summer. Until they are 11, children return to school in September, although they continue to work in the fields in the afternoons.186 Girls as young as 12 have been observed cutting broccoli, picking snow peas, and picking onions.187 Children in Mexico have also been observed helping to produce tomatoes and grapes in Baja California, tropical fruits in Tabasco, and various fruits and vegetables in Sinaloa and Sonora.188
The United States imported over $1 billion of fruits and vegetables from Mexico in 1994.
In Brazil, farms regularly employ children, especially migrant laborers during peak harvest seasons.189 In the Tabatinga region in the state of São Paulo, 15 percent of the 70,000 fruit pickers are estimated to be under 14. Some employers hire children because they are lighter and more able to climb trees without breaking branches.190 Children usually pick oranges from trees or off the ground and box them for shipment.191 They are paid $3.00 for working a 14 hour day.192
In 1994 the United States imported $220 million of orange juice from Brazil.
Child labor has been increasing in Honduras' melon and watermelon industries. At least one report estimates that up to 25 percent of the workers are between 6-18.193 In 1994 the United States imported $19 million of melons from Honduras, including $2 million of watermelons.
In Petrolina, in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, children work with their mothers collecting grapes while adult males generally cultivate the land. Most workers in Petrolina are migrants from Brazil's Northeast region seeking to escape the drought. Due to a high unemployment rate, "bóias-frias" -- men, women and children -- compete for agricultural work. Early in the morning, entire families go to farm roads to wait for recruiters known as "gatos," (literally, "cats") who contract them on a daily basis to collect the grapes.
Children earn approximately $2.00 per day picking grapes from the vines. They also load the grapes into boxes, for which they receive less than $0.01 per box. They usually fill 100-200 boxes per day.194
Children also spray pesticides and insecticides, which, according to the Labor Federation of Pernambuco, are used indiscriminately on grape plantations. One study found that 93 percent of workers wear no form of protective clothing during spraying. By the end of day, children's clothes and hands turn a greenish color as a result of exposure to the chemicals.195
In 1994 the United States imported $125,000 of grapes, $5 million of grape juice, and $7 million of wine from Brazil.
Many children work alongside their parents in Brazil's resin industry,196 which is centered in São Paulo state. Adult workers are usually hired on a temporary basis in the warmer months, when the resin is extracted. It is common for workers to bring the entire family to boost production. Most companies in the industry, in violation of the Brazilian constitution, do not register their workers. Unregistered workers are unable to receive social benefits such as social security, paid vacations, sick leave, and workman's compensation.
Children perform the same work as adults. They cut niches into trees and then, every two weeks, apply a mixture of sulfuric acid, water, burnt oil, and rice to the niches. When the resin is ready to be sapped, they place a small plastic sack to gather the liquid resin, and then collect the juice in a "tambor," or bin. Each "tambor" holds 200 kilograms. The tambors are sold for approximately $3.00.197
Because they do not wear gloves, children's hands often become sticky with glue from the resin. The glue is usually removed by washing their hands with diesel oil. Children in the fields are exposed to poisonous snakes. They also suffer from pneumonia. Living conditions are harsh. There are no schools for children to attend. Landowners provide meals for the workers, but the cost of the food is deducted from earnings. Oftentimes the cost of food exceeds total earnings. As a result, many families receive no pay at the end of the month.
In 1994 the United States imported $600,000 of resin and gum resin from Brazil.
Children work in Brazil's sisal industry, in the state of Bahia. One report suggests that approximately 25 percent of the workers in the industry are children and adolescents.198 In the municipality of Santa Cruz, in Bahia, more than 9,000 children work with their families to cut and process sisal.199 Children as young as 4 years old work to help support their parents. They usually drop out of school early to support their families and continue to work on plantations their entire lives. Many children also suffer from asthma, which can result from contact with the fibers. Numerous injuries and accidents result from the use of old machinery, and a lack of safety precautions.200
In 1994 the United States imported $9,000 of sisal from Brazil.
Child labor is used on sugar cane plantations throughout Brazil. The principal sugar cane producing states in which child labor is used are the Northeastern states of Pernambuco, Alagoas, Ceara, and Bahia; Rio de Janeiro state, in the Southeastern Region; and the state of Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil's Center-West.201
Sugar cane cutting is extremely dangerous work; sugar cane workers have an average working life of 12 years due to incapacitating injuries.202 Children are injured almost routinely. A survey in the Zona da Mata found that 56.7 percent of child and adolescent respondents had suffered some type of occupational accident. Knife wounds to the arms, hands, and legs, accounted for over 85 percent of the injuries.203 Repeated injuries to the limbs eventually causes irreparable damage to workers' ability to move their arms, and usually ends their cane-cutting careers at a young age.204
In addition to accidents, children also suffer from respiratory, dermatological, and digestive problems; back, leg, and arm pain; headaches from prolonged exposure to the sun; conjunctivitis; and mental and physical stress from having to meet high production quotas.205
The Zona da Mata, a coastal region in Pernambuco state, is Brazil's principal sugar cane growing and processing area.206 Most of the sugar cane produced is grown on large plantations that own both the sugar cane fields and the factories that process the cane and extract the sugar.
An estimated 60,000 children and adolescents, aged 10-17, work on plantations in the region, accounting for approximately 25 percent of the total number of cane workers in the Zona da Mata.207 Many of the cane workers are seasonal workers.
Most of the children in the Zona da Mata enter the labor market at young ages. One survey found that over 90 percent of the working children and adolescents, and nearly 85 percent of the heads of households, had begun working between the ages of 7 and 13.208 A lack of time, a lack of available schools near the plantations, and a perception that what is taught in the schools is irrelevant, combine to make school attendance impossible.
The majority of the children are not officially registered with the plantations; one study places the percentage of unregistered children at 90 percent, unregistered adults at 40 percent.209 The children are paid much less than adults.210 Over 40 percent of the children work more than 40 hours per week. None of these children receive any formal training; they usually acquire their skills from family members.211 Children must often wake up at 4:00 a.m. and go to work without eating breakfast;212 they carry candles with them so they can work in the pre-dawn hours.213 Employers generally do not provide the children with boots or shoes to protect them and most children instead wear either rubber sandals or work barefoot.214
In Alagoas, Brazil's second largest sugar producing state, an estimated 50,000 of the 400,000 sugar cane workers on plantations are children aged 6-13.215 Most of the children assist their parents.
Of the 20,000 sugar cane workers in Bahia state's Recôncavo Region, 2,000 are reported to be children. The children usually work from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. They do not wear shoes, hats, or other appropriate clothing to protect them from either objects or animals, or the hot sun. Most workers are hired through verbal contracts negotiated by "gatos" hired by plantation owners to supply them with the necessary number of workers.216 Most of the children work with their families. A worker must cut approximately 4 tons of sugar cane daily to receive the minimum wage at the end of the month;217 to meet this goal, support from other family members is required. Payment is typically made to the head of the household.
In the state of Ceará, children work both in the fields and inside the cane processing factories. In the fields, where the temperature is often over 40ºC (104ºF), children cut and sort cane, transport cane to the processing plants, and carry the unused pulp to the fields where it is used as feed for cows. Those working inside the processing factories feed cane into the machines that extract the sugar and carry the pulp outside to dry. Temperatures inside the factories can reach 60º C (140ºF). The children are paid the equivalent of $3.00 per week.218
In the municipality of Campos, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, there are an estimated 5,000-6,000 children aged 7-14 working in the sugar industry (approximately 4,000 boys and 2,000 girls).219 Most of the work force is seasonal and approximately 60 percent of the work force is either unemployed or underemployed between harvests. In contrast to workers in the Zona de Mata or Alagoas who live on the plantations, the migrants who work in Campos live in shanty-towns on the roads or in neighborhoods near the plantation and are brought to work by trucks daily.
In the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, there are reports of one plantation employing 600 children between the ages of 9 and 16.220 Children cut and transport cane, and collect cane that has fallen off trucks. They typically work from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. These children receive no paid vacation, time off for illness, or overtime. They are not included in the national social security system. No on-site medical assistance is provided, and when children are ill they are sent back to their villages.221
In 1994, labor inspectors found 500 workers, including children, working in "the worst conditions of food, lodging and labor" in factories making distilled alcohol from cut sugar in Mato Grosso do Sul. All of the workers were brought by recruiting agents from other states. The workers were supervised by armed guards, and were only allowed to leave the factory compound on their payday.222
In 1994 the United States imported $42 million of cane sugar from Brazil.
There are some reports that children in Guatemala cut cane along with their fathers. Some sources state that the children use small machetes to help trim the cane after it is cut. Children also are reported to collect loose stalks which have fallen off loaders and trucks.223
In 1994 the United States imported $51 million of cane sugar from Guatemala.
Children are reported to work in the tea industry in rural area of Registro, São Paulo state, in Brazil. Workers on tea plantations receive parcels of land from the plantation management "for care" in exchange for 20 percent of production. The plantation management provides the workers with meals, as well as pesticides; the value of these goods is deducted from the workers' pay. These arrangements have no official status: there is no formal contract and the workers are not formally registered in any manner.224
Tea production can be dangerous. Children are exposed to pesticides. They are not supplied with clothing to protect them from the sun or snakes that are found in the fields. Because no schools are located near the plantations, children receive no formal education.225
In 1994 the United States imported $4 million of tea from Brazil.
Children in Brazil are reported to work in the tobacco industry in Santa Cruz do Sul, a municipality in Rio Grande do Sul Province known as the "national capital of tobacco." Many of the young workers are children of migrant workers, or "bóias-frias." They help their families increase daily production, and thus earnings. Children cut and sort tobacco leaves and spray pesticides and other chemicals on the tobacco plants. They work under the hot sun, and frequently suffer back pain.226 One survey of local school children found that a majority had worked in the tobacco fields.227
U.S. imports of tobacco from Brazil in 1994 totalled $146 million.
Children on rubber plantations in western Brazil are reported to work along with their parents under conditions of servitude. In 1992, a report on families on a rubber plantation in the western state of Acre found that boys started tapping rubber at an average age of nine.228
In remote parts of Acre, rubber tappers are required to pay "rent-in-kind" for use of rubber trails -- generally between 150 and 225 pounds of rubber each year or 20 per cent of their annual production.229 In addition, they are required to deal exclusively with the plantation boss at the estate warehouse in order to sell the rubber and purchase provisions.230 This system leads to abuses, as the boss fixes all prices arbitrarily. Some rubber tappers find themselves in perpetual debt. Those who do not comply with these arrangements are sometimes threatened or thrown off the plantation along with their families.231
In one estate in Acre, families were forced to sign a contract with the plantation owner which forbid them from trading with anyone else. They were not allowed access to the calculations made by the owner to their accounts. Very few families managed to make any profit by the end of the year. Nor were they permitted to raise any animals to supplement their income. Their living conditions were bleak:
In May 1989, the Brazilian Federal Attorney General's Office initiated an investigation of labor conditions in the western state of Acre. One of its stated objectives was to eradicate a labor system which maintains rubber tappers in conditions which can be characterized under the Brazilian penal code as "analogous to slavery."233
Brazilian exports of natural rubber to the United States were $600,000 in 1994.
Children in Guatemala are also reported to work on farms that produce cardamon seeds, macadamia nuts, and tea.234 In 1994 the United States imported $1 million of cardamom seeds; $3 million of macadamia nuts; and $30,000 of tea from Guatemala.