The U.S. Department of Labor has added 12 nations, all but one of them in Africa, to the list of countries that use child or forced labor to produce goods and services for the international market. The department released three reports on child and forced labor Wednesday.
It's estimated that 115 million children worldwide are child workers. And sadly, also according to U.S. labor organizations, there is no continent where this problem has been completely solved.
But with new reports released by the U.S. Department of Labor, there is some good news regarding charcoal, a component to make steel.
"We actually, for the first time, took someone off our list and that was Brazil with the use of children producing in the mines charcoal. So there are some good effects, when we shine the light, it really means something," said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
The reports list six new goods produced by child or forced labor from twelve new countries, all in Africa except one--El Salvador. The new items range from sapphires in Madagascar to hand woven textiles from Ethopia to poultry in Bangladesh. The report also lists 128 goods from 70 countries.
"The single largest concentration from a sectored point of view is agriculture. That is because, where are the poor households? They are mainly in agriculture," said Undersecretary Sandra Polaski.
Iowa Democrat Senator Tom Harkin was the sponsor of a law in the late 1990s that made it illegal for the U.S. to import products produced with child labor. "It's not a son or daughter helping out on a family farm. It's not a kid working after school. We are talking about children who are forced to work and denied the opportunity to go to school. A nation cannot achieve prosperity on the backs of its children. The only route to true prosperity is by developing the brains of our children," he said.
The labor departmnet says the most significant progress since Senator Harkin's action occured in Latin America. But for years, the agency has been fighting the cocoa industry in West Africa.
Undersecretary Polaski says the United States is working together with governments, industry and others to end the practice with $10 million pumped into the effort that's matched by the industry's $7 million. "How do you supply the education that child needs if there's no school in that area. How do you help the family be productive enough without the child's labor How do you raise the consciousness that this is not a good thing for the child to be working with dangerous machetes and tools and carrying heavy loads?," Polaski said.
A new addition in the reports this year are recommendations to give each individual country ideas on how to eradicate child labor. Officials hope that will lead to more countries getting off the list, like Brazil with its charcoal mines.