Pace of decline in child labour slowing, ILO says

GENEVA (Reuters) – The number of children used in the labour force worldwide has dropped although it is rising in Africa, the International Labour Organisation said.

But ILO officials are worried that the pace of the reduction has slowed and they say governments must not use the global economic downturn as an excuse for inaction.

The number of child labourers had fallen to 215 million in 2008 from 222 million in 2004, a reduction of only 3 percent, an ILO report issued today said. In the previous four-year period, the number of child labourers dropped 10 percent.

“The economic downturn cannot become an excuse for diminished ambition and inaction. Instead it offers the opportunity to implement the policy measures that work for people, for recovery and for sustainable development,” ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said.

Some 60 percent of child labourers work in agriculture, and most are unpaid family workers, with only one in five in paid employment, the ILO said.

Besides the moral question of young children working, development advocates say that child labour deprives children of education, setting back a country’s economic prospects.

But many poor countries are suspicious of efforts by rich countries to use labour standards, including those on child workers, to shut out their competitive goods.

In regional terms, the number of children aged 5-14 in economic activity is increasing in sub-Saharan Africa but falling in other regions.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest incidence of children working, with one in four children aged 5-17 in child labour, against one in eight in the Asia-Pacific region and one in 10 in Latin American and Caribbean countries, it said.

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