Egypt: Cotton Co-Ops Violate Child Labor Laws (Human Rights Watch)
Egypt: Cotton Co-Ops Violate Child Labor Laws Children overworked,
mistreated, exposed to pesticides
From: Human Rights Watch <hrwatchnyc@...>
(Cairo, January 31, 2001) -- Egyptian children employed by cotton-farming
cooperatives work long hours, routinely face beatings at the hands of
foremen, and are poorly protected against pesticides and heat, Human
Rights Watch said in a new report released today. Most of the children are
also well below the country's legal minimum age of twelve for seasonal
agricultural work, the report charged.
The children are employed under the authority of the Agriculture Ministry,
and the Egyptian government has a responsibility to ensure compliance with
the country's 1996 Child Law.
"Egypt's Child Law was an important step forward, but its labor standards
are not being applied to children working for the cooperatives," said Lois
Whitman, executive director of the Children's Rights division of Human
Rights Watch. "The way children are treated in the cotton fields is
The twenty-page report, "Underage and Unprotected: Child Labor in Egypt's
Cotton Fields," documents conditions faced by more than one million rural
children who are hired each year from May to July, largely during the
school recess, to control cotton leafworm infestations. Working eleven
hours a day, seven days a week, the children inspect cotton plants for
leafworm eggs and manually remove infected portions of leaves. An
agricultural engineer assigned to one of the cooperatives told Human
Rights Watch that children were cheaper to hire, more obedient, and had
the "appropriate height" for inspecting cotton plants.
The children's working hours far exceed the maximum six hours per day for
which they may be employed under the Child Law. A majority of the children
are between the ages of seven and twelve. They earn on average three
Egyptian pounds (about one U.S. dollar) each day. Temperatures in Nile
Delta cotton fields can reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
Requests for water are granted at the discretion of the foremen.
Nearly all of the children whom Human Rights Watch interviewed recounted
routine beatings with wooden switches by foremen whenever a child was
perceived to be slowing down or overlooking leaves.
Human Rights Watch also found that children resumed work on cotton fields
either immediately after pesticide spraying or after twenty-four to
forty-eight hours, a period that falls short of the recommended intervals
for reentry after the use of certain pesticides registered for use in
Egypt. Human Rights Watch welcomed the agriculture ministry's recent
establishment of "learning groups" to educate farmers about pest
management methods. It noted that the ministry had made significant
strides in recent years to reduce the volume of pesticides applied on
cotton, and had banned the use of several categories of hazardous
In its report, Human Rights Watch called on the government of Egypt to:
-uphold its minimum age for seasonal agricultural employment and limits on
working hours for children, -monitor the treatment of children engaged in
leafworm control operations, -take disciplinary action against foremen
found to have mistreated children in their care, -establish "reentry
intervals" that reflect children's greater susceptibility to pesticide
absorption and retention, and monitor spraying by farmers, -restrict the
availability of pesticides considered highly hazardous by the World Health
Under a 1965 agriculture ministry decree, farmers are required to provide
at least one child to the local cooperative for paid leafworm control
work. Although that decree no longer appears to be enforced, Human Rights
Watch noted that it had a potentially coercive effect and called for its
formal repeal in the report.
The report released today is the second issued recently by Human Rights
Watch on child agricultural labor. In a report issued in June 2000,
Fingers to the Bone: United States Failure to Protect Child Farmworkers,
Human Rights Watch found that there are hundreds of thousands of children
and teenagers working as hired farm labor in the United States They risk
pesticide poisoning, heat illness, and injuries, and receive fewer
protections under U.S. law than children working in non-agricultural
The report, "Underage and Unprotected: Child Labor in Egypt's Cotton
Fields," can be found at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/egypt/.
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