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India, Brazil, South Africa, Lead Effort Against Child Labor

India, Brazil, South Africa, Lead Effort Against Child Labor

In less than two weeks, the labor ministers of almost 200 countries will participate in a global conference on child labor in The Hague, Netherlands. They will be working on a new "road map" to wipe out the worst forms of child labor by the year 2016. A major focus of the conference will be on three countries -- India, Brazil and South Africa. They have assumed the status of role models because of their own recent efforts to combat child labor. All three are being cited for exceptional political commitment.

Since 2006, the International Labor Oranization says, the number of child workers has dropped by 11 percent worldwide. And the number of children in hazardous work has gone down by 26 percent.
Much of that progress has come in India, Brazil and South Africa, which formed a three-way development initiative in 2003.

Sudhanshu Joshi is the director of the International Center for Child Labor and Education. He recalls the situation in India's textile industries twenty years ago.

"I was really shocked to see the situation that how children who were trafficked from eastern part of India, and from Bihar and from Nepal were kept as slave labor," said Joshi.

But now, the Indian government claims the weaving industry is free of child workers, and says it has a strong programs in place to provide children with educational and vocational training. Joshi says India's progress is largely due to social action by the government and constant vigilance of the civil society.

"Now, how do you do this globally? To do this globally, to achieve this globally, it's very very important there is a strong civil society," added Joshi.

Joshi also says international donors should concentrate their financial and technical support on the countries with the worst problems.

Philippe Egger of the International Labor Organization says outside donors alone are not the answer.
Egger says while the ILO has offered direct assistance to reduce child labor in many countries, India, Brazil, and South Africa have done a good job by enforcing their own legislation.

"This is not only a donors in the north helping the countries in the south to implement program matter. What we are seeing is that countries in the south have adopted major programs with their own resources which are sometimes complemented by resources from north but the bulk of resources today going into the fight against child labor comes from government in the south," said Egger.

India, Brazil and South Africa are also helping their neighbors. Brazil helped the government of Ghana design a program much like Brazil's "Bolsa Familia" scheme, which provides financial aid to poor families as long as their children attend school.

The three countries also financed a project to fight the worst forms of child labor in Africa's Portuguese-speaking countries.

"I think that undoubtedly that India, Brazil and South Africa are very strongly seen as sort of the motherboards of development initiatives in their respective continents, in Asia, in Africa, and in Latin America," explained Joshi.

During a recent panel discussion on child labor in Washington DC, labor ministers from India, Brazil, and South Africa shared the challenges they have faced and the lessons they have learned.
South African labor minister Membathisi Mdladlana cautioned other governments to remain alert, since even the most successful programs may have some flaws.

"We say that we need child grants for poor households so that government can subsidize those poor families with children but the problem with that is then some of these young teenage girls get pregnant because they have no employment they are not in school so for them this is the easier route for them to augment their standard of living," explained Membathisi Mdladlana.

Experts fear that the progress made in the fight against child labor can be undone by the global economic crisis. According to the ILO, child labor is a cause and consequence of poverty, and can only be dealt with by bringing prominent global actors together along with greater financial commitment.