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Child Labor, Palestinian Rights Top ILO Meeting Agenda - 2002-06-03

Labor ministers and leaders of workers' and employers' organizations from about 175 countries are in Geneva for the annual conference of the International Labor Organization which opens Monday. Child labor and the condition of workers in the Palestinian territories will figure high on the conference agenda.

A recent study by the International Labor Organization shows 246 million children worldwide work. That's one in every six children from the ages of five to 17.

ILO Executive Director Kari Tapiola says it will take a long time and great effort on the part of governments around the world to end child labor.

"It is an issue of poverty. You have to eliminate poverty. On the other hand, child labor perpetuates poverty," he said. "But also within child labor, you have particularly the worst forms, which are unacceptable. They are the kinds of forms, which even poverty cannot justify."

The ILO defines the worst forms of child labor as work that endangers the child's physical, mental or moral well-being. During the conference, which will last for three weeks, the ILO will formally launch the World Day Against Child Labor. The aim of the day is to strengthen the international momentum created in recent years to stop child labor.

The conference also will examine strategies for improving the legal and social protection of millions of people who work in the so-called informal economy, such as street merchants and news vendors. Unlike those who work in structured jobs, these people lack rights and benefits, and are not represented by unions.

The ILO reports this sector accounts for about half the workers in the world. In some countries in Asia and Africa, 70-90 percent of the workforce is involved in informal work.

The conference is also expected to hear an ILO report on the condition of workers in the Palestinian territories. The ILO counselor on Arab countries, Samir Radwan, says the report does not side with Israelis or Palestinians.

"One very important angle of the report is to offer both sides a platform for dialogue, because we believe that, even with the heated emotions on both sides, even with the loss of confidence, we have detected during our visits that, on both sides, there is willingness that the present situation cannot continue, we need an alternative," he said.

Mr. Radwan says the ILO will ask the conference to approve a program that will allow the organization to provide more technical cooperation to people in the occupied territories. He says the program is designed, among other things, to ease unemployment and protect workers' rights.