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Thursday, October 30, 1997 Published at 14:00 GMT


International plan to stop child labour

Millions of children in India want and need to work

An international conference in Norway has adopted a plan of action as a step towards preventing the worst kinds of abuses of child labour.

The plan, which is non-binding, was adopted by delegates from nearly 40 countries. It will outlaw practices such as slavery, prostitution and bonded labour in industry and agriculture.

Images of young children down the mines, others wielding hammers to break rocks in quarries were screened for the benefit of conference delegates.

[ image: Images of child labourers were shown to delegates]
Images of child labourers were shown to delegates
Around the world, at least 250 million children under the age of 14 are working, many of them doing back-breaking jobs.

The Agenda for Action against child labour was the centrepiece of a four-day conference called by the Oslo government and attended by UN agencies such as the Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), trade union, employer and non-governmental organisations and government ministers.

The conference aimed to boost the fight to stamp out child labour after years of wrangling over what forms of child labour should be targetted, how fast to proceed and the role of governments.

The non-binding plan says: "Priority should be given to the immediate removal of children from the most intolerable forms of child labour and to the physical and psychological rehabilitation of children involved. In line with such measures, adequate alternatives to these children and the families have to be provided."

In the longer term, it says that countries should "progressively move towards the elimination of all child labour for children of school age."

[ image: A young brick-maker in Peru]
A young brick-maker in Peru
The conference also heard a plea from an Indian child worker, Deepak Shukla, for the rights of children in employment to be recognised.

Deepak's appeal focused attention on a fact that has largely been ignored: that millions of children want and need to work.

Indian delegates at the conference have warned that punitive trade regulations will do more harm than good.

Many believe what is needed instead is a greater focus on education, and more development aid targetting poor families. Many countries are already taking action.

In Brazil, children risk harming their lungs in the hazardous work of producing sisal. But in an experiment poor families there are being paid subsidies to make sure their children remain in school.


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