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GLOBAL: ILO child labour study

About 246 million children ­ one child in six ­ are working, most of them involved in dangerous jobs, the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) revealed on Monday. The greatest number of working children aged between five and 17 live in Asia and Africa, according to the study by the ILO.
"Despite the increasing commitment by governments and their partners to tackle child labour worldwide, it remains a problem on a massive scale," said Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO. "While there has been significant progress towards the effective abolition of child labour, the international community still faces a major uphill struggle against this stubbornly pervasive form of work that takes a tragic toll on millions of children around the world."

The ILO said it was particularly alarmed by 180 million children trapped in the "worst forms" of child labour, in which they could be exposed to health risks or physical injury. About 8.4 million children are caught in "unconditional" forms of labour, including slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment for armed conflict, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities.

The ILO said natural disasters, economic downturns, wars and the HIV/AIDS pandemic drew the young into work, including prostitution, drug trafficking and pornography.

The largest absolute number of working children between the ages of five and 14, with some 127 million, or 60 percent of the world total, are in the Asian Pacific region.

Sub-Saharan Africa is second, with 48 million, or 23 percent of the total. In Latin America and the Caribbean there are 17.4 million, or 8 percent, and the Middle East and North Africa with 13.4 million, or 6 percent.

The report says about 2.5 million, or 1 percent of the world's child labourers, are in the industrialised countries, while another 2.4 million are found in transition economies.

In 1996 it was estimated that 250 million children were involved in child labour in developing countries ­ although the ILO says this may have been an inaccurate figure. Child labour often assumes serious proportions in commercial agriculture associated with global markets for cocoa, coffee, cotton, rubber, sisal, tea and other commodities. Studies in Brazil, Kenya and Mexico have shown that children under 15 make up between 25 and 30 percent of the total labour force in those commodities.

The report, released in Geneva, says poverty is a major factor, but argues that political instability, discrimination, migration, criminal exploitation, traditional cultural practices, a lack of decent work for adults, inadequate social protection, a lack of schools and the desire for consumer goods may also play their part.

It also says a lack of law enforcement, and the desire on the part of some employers for a cheap and flexible workforce worsen the situation.

So far, some 120 countries have ratified the ILO convention calling for a ban on child labour. "The world is increasingly aware of child labour and demanding action to stop it," Somavia said. "A majority of governments across the world now acknowledge the existence of the problem - on greater or smaller scales and in different forms. Many have already set out to measure and understand it, and are taking action against it," he added.

The report will be discussed at the ILO's 90th International Labour Conference to be held on 12 June in Geneva.

Somavia added: "The effective abolition of child labour is one of the most urgent challenges of our time and should be a universal goal." (Source: IRIN)

[For the full report, go to:]

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