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ILO: Haiti's Children Vulnerable to Labor Abuse

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Lisa Schlein

The International Labor Organization says the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in earthquake-devastated Haiti increases the risk children will be lured into work that is abusive and exploitative.

The International Labor Organization says last month's earthquake has had a catastrophic impact on Haiti's labor market.  Chief of the ILO Crisis Team, Alfredo Lazarte, has just returned from a mission to Haiti.

He says one-quarter of a million houses were destroyed and a similar number damaged by the quake.  He says one out of five houses runs a small business in Haiti.

"That means, if you are talking about half a million houses affected seriously, you are talking around 100,000 places of work that have been completely destroyed or seriously damaged," he noted.  "Beyond that, in terms of independent working places... there are around 30,000 independent businesses that are not hosted in houses, which have been seriously affected or totally lost."  

Haiti has about 200 large factories, mainly working in the garment industry.  Lazarte says about one-third of these factories have been destroyed.  He says another one-third need investment to continue working.  

At present, he adds, only 40 percent of these factories are operating.

The ILO estimates about 90,000 jobs have been completely lost due to the earthquake.  Lost jobs mean lost revenue.  This, Lazarte says, will have a serious impact on the socio-economic situation in Haiti, making it difficult to rebuild the businesses that have gone under.

He says the sudden loss of tens of thousands of jobs is putting hundreds of thousands of children at serious risk of exploitation.  He says the ILO and other U.N. and private agencies are engaged in child protection.  Nevertheless, he warns, children remain very vulnerable.

"We are working on the border with Dominican Republic because we have already verified different children crossing alone the border or with adults that we cannot verify that they are the relatives," he added.  "And the problem is these children immediately try to disappear and be integrated in jobs that are not appropriate for them.  They are working in the construction sector, in agriculture - and as well - unfortunately, they are in a network dealing with prostitution that is linked with the tourist areas of the Dominican Republic."  

Lazarte says children in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, face an even bigger problem due to the wide dispersion of the population.  He says 800,000 people have left the city.  Of them, about 160,000 have gone to the Dominican Republic.

The ILO crisis team chief says many children have been abandoned or become orphaned.  He says the children are forced to become the head of their household when they lose the parent who formerly supported the family.  

And this, he says, pushes them into the labor market, where they are exposed to many risks.  He says these children face problems of health and sanitation.  They are forced to work long hours for little pay in conditions lacking the most minimum safety regulations.

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