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May 4, 2006

New report shows global decline in child labor

Most excellent news -- AP: Report: Child labor declining worldwide
[...] the number of children at work worldwide is declining for the first time.

The number of laborers under age 18 fell by 11 percent between 2000 and 2004, from 246 million to 218 million, the Geneva-based ILO said.

"The end of child labor is within our reach," the group's director-general, Juan Somavia, said in a report. "We can end its worst forms in a decade."

The most dramatic decline has been in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the number of working children has fallen by two-thirds in four years, the ILO said. Just 5 percent of youths in the region are in the work force. [...]

Tsunami, other disasters could reverse trend

Globally, the biggest problem stems from the agriculture industry, in which seven out of 10 child laborers work, the ILO said.

Child labor also has fallen in Asia and the Pacific, but the region still has some 122 million workers between the ages of 5 and 14, the most of any region. And the ILO said the number in Asia could rise again because of December 2004 tsunami and the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan.

"Separated from their families, girls and boys became vulnerable to abduction and the more general risk of becoming entangled in child labor as part of the coping mechanism adopted by surviving families and communities," the ILO said.

Sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty, high population growth and the AIDS epidemic have hampered efforts to curb child labor, has the highest proportion of working children in the world, with nearly 50 million — one in every four children, the ILO said.

Poor children join the work force early, and are valued for their agility and manual dexterity, especially in fishing communities where small fingers are useful in handling fine nets. [...]

Abolishing child labor by 2016

More than 30 nations have set a deadline of 2016 to abolish the worst forms of child labor, and the ILO urged other countries to set target dates as well. The report did not mention the United States.

In Brazil, child labor has been virtually eradicated in the formal sector, where the government tightened inspections and began prosecuting employers who violate labor law, said Pedro Americo, national coordinator of the government's Program for the Eradication of Child Labor.

Pressure from foreign consumers led employers in export industries to form a pact to reject child labor and forced labor, he said.

But most working children are part of the informal economy, which is not protected by labor laws. Some employers hire children because they are cheap and flexible, and family businesses often cannot afford to pay formal employees, the ILO said.

"We still have a lot to do in the informal area and where child labor is hidden, like pornography and drug trafficking," Americo said.

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