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Goal to Eliminate Child Labor Running out of Steam

by Lisa Schlein

GENEVA - The International Labor Organization says progress toward eliminating the worst forms of child labor is slowing down.  To mark the World Day Against Child Labor, the ILO is urging countries to do more to end this abhorrent practice. 

Kapil Kumar, 6, polishes shoes at a makeshift shop on a pavement, on the World Day Against Child Labor in Gauhati, India, 12 Jun, 2010. (Photo: AP) This year's World Day Against Child Labor coincides with the World Cup in South Africa. But, for millions of children the beautiful game is just a distant dream.

Patrick Quinn is Senior Technical Specialist in ILO's International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor.  He says while billions of people are caught up in the excitement of the World Cup, some 215 million children are laboring for survival.

"The grim reality for many children is they do not have the opportunity to play, to learn," he said. "They are trapped in child labor.  We want to focus attention on this issue."  

Of the 215 million child laborers, the ILO estimates more than half, or 115 million, are trapped in the worst forms of child labor.  This includes all forms of slavery, such as debt bondage, using children in armed conflict, or in the sex industry.  

Many children also are forced into hazardous work, including domestic service, agriculture, and mining.  

The ILO says the largest number of children work in South Asia, because of the sheer size of the population.  But, in terms of percentage, sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of child laborers.

Patrick Quinn, of the ILO's International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor, says children as young as six or seven years of age are forced to work long days in dismal conditions, which are damaging to their health.

"We know from our statistics that the overwhelming majority of children are actually, they are not working for a salary," he said. "They are very often in home-based industries."

"They are working to support families who are very often trapped in poverty.  Large percentages of these children, about 50 percent, are working in agriculture.  We have got a good picture and another 20 percent of children are working in the informal sector, working on the streets, working in domestic service," he added.

When times get tough, Quinn says parents pull their children out of school because they cannot afford the fees.  And, he says, if there is a choice to be made, it usually is the boy and not the girl who gets to go to school.

Quinn says education, social protection and employment for adults are key to tackling child labor.  He says the ILO believes education is crucial for getting people out of the poverty trap and social protection will help poor families withstand economic shocks.  

He says when adults are employed, it is less likely they will need the income they get from their child's labor.

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