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Child Labor Figures Revised Sharply Higher

November 12, 1996|From Associated Press

From the brothels of Asia to the construction sites of Egypt, nearly twice as many children are working full time in developing countries as previously thought, the International Labor Organization said Monday.

The latest calculations from the U.N. labor agency based in Geneva showed that 250 million 5- to 14-year-olds are employed--half of them full time--up sharply from earlier estimates of 73 million full-time child workers.

The new figures come after in-depth surveys and interviews in numerous countries. Previous estimates were based almost solely on official statistics.

The ILO report found nearly 153 million children are working in Asia, 80 million in Africa and 17.5 million in Latin America. It called for a new international accord banning the harshest forms of child labor: slavery, prostitution and work in hazardous industries.

Only 49 U.N. members ratified a 1976 child labor convention; some nations said its limits on paid work were too broad.

ILO Director General Michel Hansenne said child labor only perpetuates an endless cycle of illiteracy and poverty.

"We all know that . . . many efforts over the years will be required to eliminate it completely," he said. "But there are some forms which are intolerable by any standard. These deserve to be identified, exposed and eradicated without further delay."

Slavery or child bondage is still practiced in South Asia, Southeast Asia and West Africa, the report said. Children are either sold outright or rural families are paid in advance by "contractors" who take children away to work in carpet weaving, glass manufacturing or prostitution.

Child trafficking for the sex industry is increasing despite better international awareness of the problem, the ILO said.

In Asia, child prostitutes number about 1 million and rising, the report said. Numbers are also increasing in Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Among other things, the ILO found that:

* Certain industries are exposing their child workers to pesticide poisoning, lung diseases or even crippling their growing bodies by forcing them to carry heavy weights.

* In Sri Lanka, more children die from pesticide poisoning than from a combination of other childhood diseases such as malaria, tetanus and whooping cough.

* Children are exposed to dust and fumes in repair shops, woodwork factories and construction sites in Egypt, the Philippines and Turkey.

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