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Action Needed On Child Labor

June 12th marked the World Day Against Child Labor, a time set aside each year to call attention to children throughout the world who work under harsh, exploitive, and often dangerous conditions.

A report by the United Nations International Labor Organization, the ILO, acknowledged that while the number of children involved in economic activities has decreased since 1999, there still remain one-hundred-sixty-five million children between the ages of five and fourteen in the labor force. Many of these children are denied an education and toil in hazardous working conditions. Some are treated as little more than slaves, sold to work off the debts of their impoverished parents. Others are lured by fraud into dangerous and degrading work, such as drug trafficking and domestic servitude.

The problem of child soldiering, one of the worst forms of child labor, was also recognized on World Day Against Child Labor. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, an estimated three-hundred-thousand children are involved in thirty armed conflicts around the world, including children as young as seven or eight-years-old. While many child soldiers are forced into combat, others are made to serve as cooks, guards, messengers, or spies. Both female and male child soldiers are frequently subjected to sexual abuse, many times resulting in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

As witnessed by the UN Secretary General’s 2006 report on Children and Armed Conflict, forcible recruitment and training of child soldiers by the Burmese armed forces remains a major problem. The Burmese regime, however, has prevented an assessment of the full scope of this terrible problem by limiting access to child soldiers. Other countries in which child soldiers are used include Chad, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda.

Since 1995, the U.S. Department of Labor has provided more than five-hundred-ninety-five million dollars in funding for projects to combat child labor throughout the world. This includes a thirteen million dollar global initiative, implemented by the ILO, to help educate, rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers. Governments must work together with non-governmental organizations and international organizations to offer hope to children by providing meaningful educational alternatives to oppressive child labor.