About child labour
General overview Tobacco focus

Child working with tobacco leaves
 Blossom Project

Tobacco is a major cash crop. It is farmed in over 100 countries. Its growing is very intensive and requires 33 million workers at farm level. As in other agricultural sectors, child labour is prevalent, particularly in the poorer areas. Often the whole family is involved in the cultivation and harvesting process. Children provide "adjustable labour" at peak periods and can contribute to a third of the labour input.

Though still scarce, information on child labour in tobacco growing has already been documented in some reports, such as the Fafo, (Institute for Labour and Social Research) Report on Child Labour in the Tobacco Growing Sector in Africa, 2000 (PDF 542K) , Extracts:

Previous studies indicate that the use of child labour on the tobacco estates is in fact continuous and part of the overall labour market. Children are usually not employed directly on the estates but work as part of the tenant family. When a tenant is employed on the estate he or she is employed as the head of the household and responsible for fulfilling the quota required by the estate owner. This quota cannot be grown unless the entire family of the tenant is involved in the growing of tobacco. Children are then directly involved in all aspects of tobacco growing.

The following facts about child labour have been extracted from previous studies:

  • Seventy-eight percent of children between 10 and 14 years work either full-time or part-time with their parents at the estates
  • A study in the Thyolo district, in Malawi, found that children between 6 and 14 years account for 8 per cent of all regularly working household members in male-headed households and 29 per cent in female-headed households
  • 20 per cent of all children under 15 years were reported by their parents as working full-time and a further 21 per cent were working part-time
  • For children 10 to 14 years, the proportion working full-time and part-time were 46 and 32 per cent respectively
  • Children under 10 years of age were also found working alongside their parents as full-time workers in almost all the tasks of tobacco cultivation
  • About 43 per cent of the estates have children as direct labourers, and 46 per cent as casual labourers
  • The proportion of owners and managers providing wage rates for child employees was 8 per cent in the case of children working as direct labourers and 15 per cent where they were employed as casual labourers
  • There seems to be no discrimination between male and female children as far as child labour is concerned

Another Fafo, Institute for Labour and Social Research study on Tanzania (PDF 160 KB) reports the following activities undertaken by children:

A study in Tanzania argued that tobacco-growing employers expect the working children to do the following activities in tobacco plantations:

  • Clearing tobacco and other crop plantations
  • Making bricks
  • Domestic works
  • Building tobacco drying sheds
  • Preparing tobacco nurseries
  • Sowing tobacco seedlings
  • Watering tobacco seedlings
  • Transplanting tobacco seedlings and tilling tobacco ridges
  • Fertilising tobacco plants
  • Weeding tobacco and other crops
  • Cutting poles and logs of firewood
  • Carrying poles and logs of firewood from forests
  • Plucking tobacco leaves
  • Hanging tobacco leaves on poles in tobacco dryingsheds
  • Smoking tobacco leaves
  • Hanging tobacco leaves from poles in dryingsheds
  • Plaiting tobacco leaves
  • Grading tobacco leaves
  • Tying tobacco leaves in bundles
  • Selling tobacco
  • Burning tobacco stems, and
  • Harvesting other crops

There are three broad hazards facing children working in the tobacco growing sector:

  • Consequences of dangerous working environments including; injuries, sickness, burns, humiliation, snake bites, malnutrition and death;
  • Consequences of excessive physical strain including; loss of reasoning capacity and being overworked for longer hours;
  • Consequences of the act of the working child to migrate his / her own home includes the loss of one's progressive ethical moral values and permanent loss of education.

To contribute to ending child labour in tobacco growing involves the commitment and cooperation of all stakeholders from farm workers to governments, including the corporate sector and the trade unions.

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