The Progress of Nations

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 The lost children
Commentary: Reaching the unreached

Action, not words

A boy sleeps on a pavement in South Africa. Poverty has consigned millions of children globally to a life of suffering on the streets, in bonded labour, in brothels, factories and fields.

Many gains have been made in the decade since the World Summit for Children and the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. To bring this progress to its full fruition, the world must now force itself to confront and change the miserable fates of those children who have gained the least, or nothing at all. A crucial step is to make the time-bound eradication of the worst forms of child labour and exploitation a cause for all of us, not in words, but in action; not in speeches, but in policies and resources. It is a global cause we all share across regions, cultures, spiritual traditions and development levels. A cause to which we all want to contribute in practical terms.

During the last eight years, some 90 countries have made progress on this important front, uniting behind the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) to form a strong alliance that has turned this issue into a global cause. From just one donor country and six participating States in 1992, IPEC now has nearly 25 donors and more than 65 participating countries. In those countries, projects are helping prevent children from becoming involved in child labour, remove them from such situations through rehabilitation and education and provide improved livelihoods for their families through decent work.

In addition, the unanimous adoption in June 1999 of a new Convention (No. 182) on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour by the International Labour Conference of the ILO offers enormous leverage in ending the worst forms of child labour. These include such practices as child slavery, the forced recruitment of child soldiers, forced labour, trafficking, debt bondage, serfdom, prostitution, pornography and various forms of hazardous and exploitative work.

Convention 182 requires ratifying nations to take immediate action to protect children from abusive labour and to provide those removed from these horrors with rehabilitation and education.

A dozen countries have already ratified this new human rights instrument and many more report that they will do so in the next few months. Within IPEC, we are intent on winning rapid ratification on a country-by-country basis through a wide range of activities – from private lobbying to public rallies, from on-line information to wall posters.

But we are committed to going beyond universal ratification to ensure that the principles of this Convention are integrated within national legal structures and implemented in ways that give realistic hope of rapidly eradicating these worst forms of child labour.

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