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Thursday, June 17, 1999 Published at 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK


Child slavery ban agreed

Millions of children work in developing countries

The International Labour Organisation has unanimously adopted a convention to end the worst forms of child labour.

[ image: The convention bans the worst forms of child labour]
The convention bans the worst forms of child labour
Representatives from 174 member countries agreed to ban children from forced labour, trafficking, debt bondage, prostitution, pornography and exploitative work in industries using dangerous machinery and hazardous substances.

Child labour activists and trade unions have hailed the convention as a giant step forward in the campaign against child labour.

The convention is a compromise document, following the widespread failure of countries to ratify the decade-old convention on abolishing all forms of child labour.

Olara Otunnu, UN special representative on children and armed conflict: Disappointment at exclusion of ban on child soldier
The new convention seeks to eliminate activities that no country, however poor, could be seen to condone.

In a separate move, the ILO overwhelmingly approved - in an unprecendented move - a resolution barring Burma from all of its activities until the country puts a stop to the use of forced labour.

The resolution prevents Burma from receiving aid or attending meetings and is the strongest the organisation can impose.

The Burmese authorities have reacted by accusing the ILO of "deplorable interference in its internal affairs".

But the organisation failed to pass a clause banning children from armed forces around the world.

[ image:  ]
According to Amnesty International, more than 300,000 children under 18 years of age are currently fighting in conflicts.

The problem for the ILO when dealing with child soldiers is that the ILO defines a child as anyone under the age of 18, but many influential countries, including Britain, the US and Holland, recruit 17 year olds into their professional armed forces.

In the end a compromise was reached. The convention includes under the category of worst forms of child labour "forced or compulsory recruitment" of child soldiers under the age of 18.

'Tremendous breakthrough'

Nevertheless, activists say the convention is stronger than expected.

Alette van Leur of the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs: Child soldiers are not entirely forgotten in the convention
International trade unionist Rosslyn Noonan said: "The convention itself is a tremendous breakthrough, but what matters now is universal ratification, rapid and immediate by all countries, and even more importantly, the beginning of implementation on the ground."

ILO countries have a poor record on swift ratification and the enforcement of workers rights conventions.

But this time round, it is hoped universal outrage at the plight of millions of child labourers will spur them into action.

ILO spokesman Tom Netter on the forms of child activity included in the convention
US President Bill Clinton, addressing the ILO on Wednesday, said he would support the convention for ratification by Congress.

He said: "We must wipe from the Earth the most vicious forms of abusive child labour. Every single day, tens of millions of children work in conditions that shock the conscience."

The Geneva-based ILO estimates that in developing countries alone, 250 million children between the ages of five and 14 years work.

Asia has around 61% of all child workers, compared with 32% for Africa and 7% in Latin America.

However, Africa has the highest rate of child economic activity, estimated at roughly over two children in every five.

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