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First Children's World Congress on Child Labor Opens in Italy - 2004-05-10

The First Children's World Congress on Child Labor opened Monday in Florence, Italy, and ahead are three days of discussions aimed at developing strategies to eliminate the exploitation of children in the global workforce.

Around 300 children from around the world are taking part in the congress. They are former child workers and child activists who have come together for the first time to share their experiences and proposals to try to combat the exploitation of child labor.

Indian-born Shiv Kumar was 10 years old when he was taken to work in a carpet-weaving factory in Varanasi and told he would be there forever. For five years he worked for no money and little food. He says he worked hard and was often abused and beaten.

Shiv said the world does not realize how many carpets are made and how many children are exploited. He said he came to the congress to tell the world that children should be removed from the work market.

Fifteen-year old Alice, from Abidjan, spoke of her experience working in a garbage dumping ground. Fourteen-year-old Zam Zam, from Saana, sold chewing gum in the streets. Seventeen-year-old Rafana, from Cambodia, told of the long hours she worked on a boat collecting the fish from the nets, and Analuisa, from Honduras, how she cleaned the house and looked after the children of a wealthy family.

All say they were working instead of playing.

Representatives from governments, trade unions, non-government organizations and international institutions are also taking part in the meeting, organized by the Global March against Child Labor.

The movement, established in 1998 in India, is committed to promoting children's rights, especially the right to be free from economic exploitation.

Kailash Satyarthi is the movement's founder. He explains the extent of the problem. ?246 million children are the victims of various forms of child labor, and two-thirds of them are in the most abusive, most exploited forms like slavery and prostitution and child soldiers and so on. Another 100 million children have never had access to school,? he said.

Mr. Satyarthi says children must not perform work that can damage them physically, mentally or spiritually. They have come here, he says, to tell governments they have a right to free and quality education, and are no longer prepared to wait. ?Their voices cannot be ignored. They are so sacred, they are so moral, they are so honest. No government can ignore the voices of children,? he added.

The leader of the Global March against Child Labor says the world should not have the perception that the problem of child labor exists only in poor countries, because he says, it also exists in the developed world.