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ILO Focuses on Exploited Children - 2003-06-12

To mark the World Day Against Child Labor, the International Labor Organization is focusing on children who are forcibly moved within and across national borders for economic and sexual exploitation. The United Nations estimates at least 1.2 million children a year are victims of trafficking by criminal gangs.

The International Labor Organization says 246 million children, or one out of six in the world, are involved in child labor. 73 million of these working children are less than 10 years old.

The ILO says the vast majority of children work in agriculture, where they may be exposed to dangerous chemicals and equipment. Another hazardous occupation is fishing.

At an event for World Day Against Child Labor in Geneva, one little girl reads a letter sent to the ILO about the situation of a young boy from Cameroon, called Thomas. She says his impoverished family sold him to work for a fisherman.

"He was forced to fish in spite of the dangers involved," she said. "Thomas had to fish twice a day, starting as early as 3:00 a.m. until 5:00 a.m., and then had to go fishing again at 5:00 p.m. until 12:00 midnight. Sometimes when they were on the river, he felt like jumping into it and ending it all."

The International Labor Organization says three quarters of working children are engaged in what it calls the worst forms of child labor. These include trafficking, armed conflict, slavery, sexual exploitation, and hazardous work.

Queen Rania of Jordan is in Geneva to, as she says, shine the spotlight on child trafficking. She calls this one of very worst forms of abuse, a crime that affects millions of children and their families worldwide.

She says that every year, tens of thousands of children are lured or abducted from their homes and forced into sweatshop labor or sexual exploitation. This brutal trade in human lives, she notes, is a billion-dollar industry

"They are sent to mines, plantations, factories, or into domestic labor," she said. "They are put on the street, to scavenge, sell or beg on behalf of their jailers. In war-torn countries, boys may be forced into battle, or made to clear landmines. Girls as young as 10 have been sold as comfort girls for soldiers. And countless more have been driven into prostitution and pornography."

The ILO operates programs against child labor on five continents. The organization acknowledges that stamping out this practice is difficult, if not impossible. But, it says, a number of programs around the world are successfully tackling some aspects of the problem.

For example, in the Philippines, a local group in the capital, Manila, trains security guards, police, porters, street vendors, and others to spot and report potential trafficking cases, and take action against illegal recruiters. Since 2001, the ILO says, 1,000 trafficked victims have been rescued.