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Wednesday, April 29, 1998 Published at 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK


The facts about child labour

The stereotypical image of a child forced to work for a living

Unicef-UK has created a series of leaflets aimed at helping British businesses discourage child labour in countries where they invest.

The leaflets, entitled Basic Facts for Business, deal with child labour in 10 specific countries. They are designed to inform the companies about how children become part of the workforce, the size of the problem, the legal situation in each country and practical steps that companies can take to end child labour.

The countries covered are India, Bangladesh, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Nepal, Thailand, El Salvador, Pakistan, Costa Rica and Tanzania.

Unicef-UK has included the UK to meet the demand for more clear and concise information about the legal situation for children employed in the UK.

The President of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Sir Colin Marshall, said UK companies would welcome the campaign.

"British industry has a responsibility to the world's children to make sure the products we sell are not in any way exploiting children or denying them their rights.

"Using Unicef's Basic Facts for Business leaflets, the private sector now has a real opportunity to take action and help consign exploitative child labour to the history book where it belongs."

[ image: Children develop swollen fingers and aching backs working in cramped conditions]
Children develop swollen fingers and aching backs working in cramped conditions
According to Unicef, approximately 250 million children work worldwide. They are deprived of a basic education as well as their health and a chance at a normal family life.

Young children are often made to work long hours in cramped and squalid conditions, Unicef says, weaving some of the world's most exquisite - and expensive - carpets.

Some work in scrap heaps and are exploited by middlemen who buy their findings for pittance. Others work in restaurants, earning only the food their employers give them.

Myths distort harsh reality

Unicef adds that although situations such as this are all too real, there are also several myths that prevent companies understanding the true nature of child labour.

The organisation points out that child labour does not only happen in the developing world. Children are found working in all countries but, Unicef says, "it is the nature of the work the children do that determines whether or not they are harmed by it."

It is also a myth that child labour can never be eliminated until poverty disappears, or that these practices occur primarily in export industries.

Unicef says however poor their families are, children would not find work if there were not people prepared to exploit them.

Finally, applying pressure through sanctions and boycotts is not the only way to lead the fight against child labour.

Unicef says: "Sanctions are blunt instruments with long-term consequences that may not be foreseen, with the result that they harm, instead of help children."

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