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Child Labor

The most significant development in child labor in 1998 was the drafting by the International Labor Organization of a new convention that would seek to eliminate “extreme” forms of child labor, including:

· all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, forced or compulsory labor, debt bondage and serfdom;
· the use, engagement or offering of a child in illegal activities, for prostitution, production of pornography or pornographic performances;
· any other type of work or activity which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to jeopardize the health, safety or morals of children, so that they should not be used or engaged in such work or activity under any circumstances.

Hazardous work was defined to include:

· work which exposed children to physical, emotional or sexual abuse;
· work underground, underwater, or at dangerous heights;
· work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or which involved the manual transport of heavy loads;
· work in an unhealthy environment which might, for example, involve exposure to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to extreme temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations;
· and work under particularly difficult conditions such as for long hours, during the night, or without the possibility of returning home each day.

The convention provided that state parties should give special attention to children under twelve, and to the special situation of girls. The term “child” referred to anyone under the age of eighteen.

The draft convention was discussed at the June 1998 annual meeting of the ILO, and is expected to be made final at the June 1999 meeting, after discussions among governments, and employers’ and labor organizations. Nongovernmental organizations had some, but very little input into the draft convention. NGOs and others had expressed concern that this convention, with its emphasis on protecting children under twelve, might undercut the ILO Minimum Age Convention (1973), which sets a series of older permissible ages for child workers. That convention, however, has been ratified by a relatively small number of states. Therefore, many felt that the proposed convention would play an important role in protecting children, despite its variance from the Minimum Age Convention.

In another area, the World Bank promulgated in 1997, for the first time, a child labor policy to be considered when making lending agreements to countries, and created in 1998 a staff position specifically to deal with the issue of child labor in the course of bank lending. This policy came about in part because of the World Bank’s embarrassment over the disclosure by Human Rights Watch of bonded child labor in the Indian silk industry, which was heavily supported by the bank.



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Human RIghts Watch