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From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Tue Nov 30 1999 - 08:26:34 EST


OTC 11-30-99 2:14 AM

MEXICO CITY, (Nov. 29) IPS - Latin American governments are increasingly
throwing their support behind an international campaign to eliminate the
exploitation of child workers.
   Costa Rican labor minister Victor Morales, one of the leaders of the
effort, has told the International Labor Organization (ILO) that his
government will soon ratify the convention on the "Worst Forms of Child
   Labor ministers from other Central American nations also have pledged
to seek legislative approval of the convention , early in the new year.
   The forms of child labor that the ILO seeks to ban have been portrayed
as "an unconscionable abuse of human rights." They include:
   - All forms of slavery or practices similar to it such as the sale and
trafficking of children.
   - Debt bondage, serfdom and compulsory labor.
   - Forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflicts.
   - Use of children for prostitution or pornographic performances.
   - Procuring a child for illicit activities such as for producing or
trafficking in drugs.
   - Work which is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of
   The island-nation of Seychelles, off the east coast of Africa, was the
first to formally ratify this convention, which was adopted unanimously by
the ILO's 174 member states during its annual conference in Geneva in
   The need for such a ban arose after the international community became
aware of what ILO chief Juan Somavia describes as "the nightmarish vision
of girls and boys toiling in mines, sold for prostitution and pornography,
enslaved and trafficked like chattel or exposed to hazardous work."
   Ratification will mean that governments must take immediate action to
prohibit and eliminate such forms of child labor through time-bound
programs of action and proper law enforcement, which includes penal and
other sanctions, says Claudia Coenjaarts, a coordinator in South East Asia
for the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor.
   She expects governments to report regularly to the ILO as regards their
progress, since they will be held accountable for any allegation about
such forms of child abuse.
   "What is so promising about the new convention is its active call for
international cooperation, making it a global issue that we, as a world
community, cannot ignore," she observes. "It needs a response today, not
   According to available studies, a bulk of the 250 million children
currently working in developing countries perform tasks that are hazardous
and dangerous to their health and well-being.
   While close to half of them have been forced into full-time work, the
others combine work and schooling.
   A majority of the children are between 5 and 14 years-old.
   In Latin America, for instance, nearly 20 million children are
exploited in this manner. Children can be found working virtually as
slaves in the agricultural sector of the Dominican Republic, in the stone
quarries of Guatemala and in the prostitution rings of Costa Rica.
   Columbia has acquired notoriety for the proliferation of child
trafficking,and in Peru, the mining industry thrives on a vast army of
child workers.
   The most vulnerable young workers are the children from indigenous and
migrant communities.
   The situation in Africa is a mirror image of this dismal picture.
   ILO researchers are aware of children trapped in the web of the sex
industries in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. In Madagascar and Mali they have
been driven into hazardous quarries and forced into domestic servitude in
   Child labor abuse, however, is most rampant in Asia.
   A recent World Bank report estimates that as much as 150 million
children work full-time. They can be found, for instance, in the brothels
of East Asia, where some of them have been either "sold outright" or their
families "paid in advance by contractors."
   According to Swapan Mukharjee, the head of the non-governmental
organization (NGO) "Free the Children-India," child smuggling is thriving
in the districts of Bengal. Some of the children are used as "carriers of
smuggled goods" while others are used for "harmful and dangerous
   The tanneries and brick kilns in the region employ children who are
expected to work up to 15 hours a day, often without any days off for
months on end.
   India has the dubious reputation of being the country that leads the
world in the number of bonded child laborers -- close to 15 million, of an
estimated 60 million children under 18 who work in India.
   In neighboring Pakistan, one the other hand, debt servitude is
prevalent. According to one child-rights organization, debts are often
incurred by the child's parents and it is paid-off by labor -- the
children sold into debt bondage to work long hours for many years. Some of
them, as young as five, have been found making hand-stitched soccer balls
inside dark and silent factories.
   The ILO's efforts to clamp down on child labor abuse has encountered
opposition in some quarters. For example at an ILO meeting in Mexico
earlier this year a regional union -- the Latin American Workers Center
(CLAT) -- argued that abolition of child labor would push many families
"deeper into poverty."
   A CLAT member appealed to the ILO to understand the "true extent" of
the problem, saying that working children "contribute additional income
for their survival and that of their families."
   An alternative proposal suggested linking the campaign for the
elimination of the worst forms of child labor to the struggle in many poor
communities for decent jobs, fair pay, quality education and effective
professional training.
   Other social workers also have questioned the ILO's campaign.
   "If the menace of child labor is to be effectively addressed, people
must be empowered at the community level. Because without empowerment at
the community level, mechanisms to hold governments accountable to act
decisively against child labor and sexual exploitation will never
develop," one wrote in a newspaper article.
   Coenjaerts agrees in principle on the need for "comprehensive measures"
to achieve a lasting success. The ILO, she points out, aspires to give
these children "better alternatives, including education or vocational
training programs, rehabilitative counseling and support."
   Their families will not be ignored either, she adds. They will be
offered economic opportunities adaptable to their specific situation.
    Copyright 1999

Melanie Orhant

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