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Too many children working, UNICEF says

GENEVA / NEW YORK, 12 June 2002 - Alarmed by new figures that say one in six children work, including millions in slave-like forms of forced and bonded labour, UNICEF today called on all governments to move immediately and decisively to end the disturbing phenomenon.

The announcement comes in response to an important new report officially launched today by the International Labour Organization that says 246 million children between ages 5 and 17 are working today, most in dangerous conditions. The release of the report is part of the inaugural World Day Against Child Labour, organized by the ILO to draw attention and action to the issue.

"That so many children should be forced to work -- and endure the hardship and abuse that so often comes with it -- is more than simply unacceptable. It is unconscionable. These children need to spend time learning and developing, not labouring in a desperate attempt simply to survive," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. "We need to see decisive leadership from governments. They are signatories on international treaties banning such practices. It is well past time for them to live up to their obligations. And there is no better time to start taking such action than today, the very first World Child Labour Day."

According to the ILO report, "A future without child labour", 73 per cent of these children - approximately 180 million - are working in the worst forms of child labour - including prostitution, bonded labour, trafficking and hazardous work. Moreover, the figures also show that slavery is not dead, with some 5.7 million children trapped in forced and bonded labour. It is often very difficult for working children to seek help, not just because of their young age, but because they have no birth certificates or official documents and are subsequently "invisible."

Action Needed on International Treaties

While political leadership is critical for ending child labour, UNICEF stresses that it must be in conjunction with broad partnerships. UNICEF continues to work closely with the ILO, other United Nations agencies and NGOs to advocate for the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. With offices in 161 countries, UNICEF has the most extensive field presence of any UN agency, and has been supportive in securing the ratification by more than 120 countries of ILO Convention 182.

Other agreements that obligate governments to move against child labour include the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most ratified international human rights treaty, and the final document from last month's United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children, where governments agreed to a wide-ranging set of goals for the health, education and protection of children. One of the 21 goals says that the signatories must, "Take immediate and effective measures to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, as defined in ILO Convention 182, and elaborate and implement strategies for the elimination of child labour that is contrary to accepted international standards."

Ms. Bellamy said that ending child labour is a key part of UNICEF's overall attempts to reduce poverty and the devastating impact it has on children.

"Child labour reinforces a cruel cycle of deprivation. On one hand it is symptomatic of widespread and deeply entrenched global poverty. On the other hand, because it usually keeps children out of school, in poor health and subject to psychological and physical abuse, it reinforces this poverty by keeping yet another generation from fulfilling anything close to its potential," she said. "The ILO report must send alarm bells ringing not only for those of us concerned with child rights, but for everyone who is striving to overcome poverty and the crime, violence, extremism, refugees and other ills it breeds."

Education is crucial for combating child labour and UNICEF uses education in 30 countries as both a preventive and protective measure against child labour. For example, in Bangladesh UNICEF partnered with the Ministry of Education to provide basic non-formal education to 350,000 of the poorest urban children exposed to hazardous work. Other UNICEF-supported initiatives include promoting birth registration and school attendance, and ending forced and debt bondage, which is particularly widespread in India, Pakistan and Nepal.

For further information, please contact:

Jehane Sedky-Lavandero, UNICEF New York, 212) 326-7269, jsedky@unicef.org

Wivina Belmonte, UNICEF Geneva, +41) 22) 909-5509, wbelmonte@unicef.org





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