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1/21/03 - CHILD LABOR AND EXPLOITATION - 2003-01-21


The United Nations International Labor Organization, or I-L-O, estimates that over one-hundred-eighty million children are working under exploitative and harmful conditions. These include mining, agricultural work, scavenging, domestic work, forced labor, forced recruitment for armed combat, and procurement as prostitutes or as subjects of pornography. Thousands of children die each year. And countless young lives are ruined by such exploitation.

Between 1995 and 2002, the United States contributed over one-hundred-fifty-seven million dollars to support projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East. The aim is to remove or prevent hundreds of thousands of children from being engaged in exploitative work, to give them educational opportunities, and to provide their families with income-generating activities.

U.S. and Moroccan officials recently signed a letter of agreement to collaborate in reducing child labor and expanding educational opportunities for Morocco's underprivileged children. One major goal is having all Moroccan children enrolled in secondary school by 2009.

Another example is U.S. funding of a project to free an estimated one-thousand-two hundred children currently working as slaves on fishing boats on Lake Volta in Ghana. The children, aged five to fourteen, have been sold to traffickers for about one-hundred-eighty dollars each. They work from dawn to late afternoon casting and drawing nets, for which they receive no pay. Many are said to have drowned trying to loosen nets caught underwater. In return for releasing the children, the International Organization for Migration offers fishermen training and equipment. It will also give the children's parents small sums of money to enable the children to return to school or get vocational training.

A decade ago, many governments did not even talk about the issue of child labor. But today, the topic is openly debated and nations are committing themselves to dealing with it. In the words of U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Cameron Findlay, "We must stand firm in our commitment to work together as a community of nations, to leave no child behind anywhere in the world, in appallingly dangerous workplaces, bound in slavery, exploited as prostitutes, or employed in other criminal and hazardous professions. No child should be involved in dangerous, illegal or immoral work."

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