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ILO Says Child Labor Declining in Asia


The International Labor Organization says child labor - especially in its worst forms - is on the decline for the first time across the globe. Asia is one of the regions where the number of working children has dropped significantly.

A report by the International Labor Organization says there are five million fewer working children in the Asia-Pacific region today than there were four years ago.

The ILO says Thailand, Malaysia and China are among those countries where child labor has declined significantly.

Panudda Boonpala is a child labor specialist at the ILO's regional office in Bangkok. She says economic growth in certain countries has played an important role in the reduction of child labor. She says, however, that economic improvements need to go hand in hand with better access to education, and with the political will to stop child labor.

"In the situation where poverty reduction targets rural poor, for example, and at the same time expands basic education for the same population, and works at the same time on law enforcement in certain economic sectors where child labor is a common practice, then the chance to have child labor reduction grows much faster," she said.

Despite the decline, the ILO estimates there are still more than 122 million children aged between five and 14 working in Asia, the highest number of child laborers in the world.

In some countries, the number of child laborers has gone up in the past few years. Panudda says crisis situations - including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, last year's earthquake in Pakistan and political unrest in countries like Sri Lanka and Afghanistan have forced many children to enter the labor force.

"Children who have lost their families, even sometimes the family is there but the livelihoods of the family is gone - and many of these children are at risk of entering (the) labor force after the crisis," she explained.

Panudda says one of the most positive developments in recent years is that a number of countries in the region - such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan and Cambodia - have set up deadlines to eliminate what the ILO calls the worst forms of child labor. These include bonded labor, commercial sexual exploitation, the use of children for illicit activities such as drug trafficking, and work that is considered dangerous, such as mining and deep sea fishing.

The ILO believes that these forms of child labor could be wiped out worldwide in ten years. Panudda says she is optimistic that Asia will be among the regions that will meet this target.

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