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Friday, October 23, 1998 Published at 08:10 GMT 09:10 UK

World: South Asia

UN to tackle child labour in India

Thousands have marched against child labour around the world

By South Asia Correspondent Mike Wooldridge

The United Nations has announced a new strategy for tackling the problem of child labour in India, the country with the largest number of working children in the world.

The UN says child labour cannot be tolerated in any form and must be eliminated, with the highest priority being given to the most exploitative forms of child employment.

It says India's own child labour laws have been largely ineffective.

The UN points out that statistics in this area are highly unreliable. The last census suggested that just over 11 million children in India under the age of 14 were engaged in child labour, but other estimates range up to 100 million.

Poverty 'not the main reason'

The UN rejects the notion that poverty is the main reason for the existence of child labour.

Children are often employed, it says, because they can be paid less, can be abused without provoking retaliation and are not organised like adult workers.

Among the most extreme forms of exploitation of children are bonded labour and child prostitution.

Child labour in India, the UN says, is perpetuated by traditional attitudes and social and caste factors and institutionalised in many parts of the country.

It says there are many laws for tackling the problem, but they have been largely ineffective because of a lack of political and social will and difficulties in enforcing them.

The UN is promising a joint strategy involving all its agencies to support the government in dealing with child labour more effectively, and it says it is particularly concerned about the often hidden exploitation of young girls.

It sees elementary education as a principal means of eliminating child labour.

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