A new report by the International Labor Organization, ILO, says child labor, especially in its worst forms, is in decline for the first time across the globe. Between 2000 and 2004, the ILO report finds the number of child laborers worldwide fell by 11 percent from 246 million to 218 million.
The International Labor Organization says the good news goes on. It notes the number of children and young people between the age of five and 17 trapped in hazardous work decreased by 26 percent. It fell to 126 million in 2004 from a previous estimate of 171 million.
ILO Executive Director, Kari Tapiola, says these latest figures make the ILO cautiously optimistic that the fight against child labor can be won.
"It is feasible that within a period of say 10 years, we could get rid of the whole issue of worst forms of child labor," he said. "Now that is a very tall order. If the international attention is maintained and if it continues to be translated into concrete global support for action, then we believe it is realistic to arrive at this task."
The ILO describes the worst forms of child labor as activities that are illegal. These include child prostitution, the use of children for drug trafficking or pornographic purposes and debt bondage. Four years ago, the ILO estimated at least eight million children work in these areas.
The ILO also considers hazardous work, that is work that endangers a child's life and health, to be among the worst forms of child labor. This includes deep-sea diving, certain forms of domestic work and quarry mining.
The report finds the most rapid decline in child labor has occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean. Asia and the Pacific also registered a significant drop in the number of working children. But, the ILO says this region still has the largest number of child workers in the five to 14 age group, about 122 million.
Tapiola says the sub-Saharan Africa region has the highest proportion of children engaged in economic activities of any region in the world. He says 26 percent of the child population, or almost 50 million African children work.
"The least progress has been made in sub-Saharan Africa, unfortunately, where there are problems of infrastructure, of conflict, of population growth rates, HIV/AIDS infection and so on," he added.
But Tapiola says there are some hopeful signs that the situation of child labor can get better in Africa. He notes that primary school enrollments in the region increased by 38 percent between 1990 and 2000.
The report attributes the reduction in child labor to increased political will and public awareness of the problem. Tapiola says a worldwide movement against child labor has been gathering steam. He says more consumers are boycotting goods that are produced by children and this is having an effect.