September 26, 2012—Brazil and Chile were the only two nations that made significant progress toward ending the worst forms of child labor of the 144 countries examined by the Department of Labor in 2011. Globally, 109 countries made at least one meaningful effort this year to combat child labor, according to the department’s 11th annual report, Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.
|Nearly 6 million children below the age of 10 in Pakistan, like this boy working at a loom, are in child labor, says SPARC. Photo courtesy of SPARC
“Poverty is the primary reason…why children are forced to work,” U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said today in announcing the report. “Education and training are key. When children are forced to work instead of getting and education, they lose their shot at escaping poverty.”
More than 215 million children worldwide are involved in child labor, reports the International Labor Organization (ILO). More than half are exposed to the worst forms of child labor: slavery, forced labor, armed conflict, drug trafficking and prostitution. They wield machetes, plunge hundreds of feet into mines and sift trash in garbage dumps. Child labor is most common in countries where there are no unions and where other worker rights violations—such as pay inequity, discrimination and lack of health and safety measures—are widespread.
The department also released two companion reports, the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, which now includes 134 products made by child labor in 74 countries, and the List of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor, which helps government procurement processes avoid goods made with child labor.
Calling Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor a “voice for the voiceless for children who have been denied their childhood,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) joined the press conference with Solis, Gayle Smith, special assistant to President Obama and senior director for development and democracy, and Ian Solomon, U.S. Executive Director at the World Bank. Harkin initiated passage of an amendment in Congress more than a decade ago that mandates the Labor Department’s annual child labor report. This year, the Labor Department report includes a new assessment feature for each country, making it easier to track annual progress.
Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor overviews improvements, problem areas and solutions in 144 countries. Among the solutions the report highlights is the work by the Solidarity Center, which helped launch a program to combat child trafficking in the tea, coffee and sugar sectors in Kenya. The report notes that “this program trains union stewards on trafficking issues and raises awareness about labor practices that promote child labor such as sub-contracting and outsourcing.” The Solidarity Center and its partners around the world expose the problem of child labor, push for policies that prepare young people for the workplace and promote more effective national action plans to curb this abuse of worker and human rights.
The report also states that while many governments strengthened legal frameworks, 90 countries, or 62.5 percent of those included in the report, have not ratified at least one of the international conventions related to child labor or have laws that are not in compliance with international standards regarding required ages for work or school. Some 175 countries have signed an ILO Convention (agreement) to end the worst forms of child labor by 2016.
As Harkin said, in countries with child labor, “the cycle of poverty is perpetuated. When children are exploited for the economic gain of others, everybody loses.”