Date: Fri, 7 Mar 97 11:47:53 CST
From: (Peoples Weekly World)
Subject: Children victims of poverty, exploitation

**Children victims of poverty, exploitation**

Children victims of poverty, exploitation

By Julia Lutsky, in People's Weekly World, 8 March, 1997.

There are more than two billion children in the world today. Driven by poverty to support themselves and their families, close to 300 million of them work.

That is more than the total number of children in all the developed nations together. More than 250 million children in developing nations work, 60 percent of them for six or more days a week, 40 percent for nine or more hours per day.

According to the 1997 United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report, "The State of the World's Children: Focus on Child Labor," a review of nine Latin American countries shows that without the income provided by children between the ages of 13 and 17 the level of poverty in that area alone would rise between 10 and 20 percent.

Most children work on farms and plantations or in homes - away from the prying eyes of government inspectors and media researchers. In Indonesia a third of all domestic workers - about 400,000 of them - are less than 15 years old. Some quarter of a million children in Haiti are domestic workers and about 50,000 of them are between the ages of 7 and 10. Nine out of 10 child domestic workers are girls.

Children who work as domestics often do so under extremely exploitative conditions. They may work as long as 12 to 15 hours a day. They receive no formal schooling. Very few are paid except in kind: Clothing, food and board are considered sufficient. Learning no skills they will be ill equipped to face the world as adults.

Many work in bonded servitude, under conditions amounting to slavery. As young as 8 or 9, they are pledged by their parents, sometimes in exchange for small loans, sometimes simply for the cost of their upkeep. In either case, the result is the same for the child: involuntary servitude, often for life.

UNICEF cites the carpet industry in the Uttar Pradesh state of India as particularly egregious. Here children are held captive, frequently forced to work as long as 20 hours a day, often in cramped positions which stunt their growth.

In Brazil, children are forced into charcoal burning projects in Minas Gerais and Bahia and sugar cane estates in Espiritu Santo. In 1989, three million Brazilian children between the ages of 10 and 14 were estimated to be working on sisal, tea, sugar cane and tobacco plantations, and children comprised a quarter of the agricultural workers in Kenya. Children of migrant workers labor under appalling conditions in the rich nations of the north as well, planting and harvesting the crops that grace the tables of their brothers and sisters in the industrialized world.

Children working in Brazilian cane fields are a third of all the Brazilian sugar workers but, because cane cutting is done with machetes and is difficult and dangerous, they are involved in 40 percent of the accidents. They work on flower exporting farms in Colombia, and on sisal, cocoa, coffee, tea and cotton plantations throughout Africa, growing the export crops on which their countries depend.

In Asia they work tobacco, tea, sugar and rubber, often for as little as 60" for a 14-hour day. If there is a minimum wage, it is overlooked when paying these children. In all these places, too, they are exposed to snakes, insects and pesticides and they are often forced to carry loads far beyond their abilities. If there are minimal health standards established, they do not apply to children.

Because children can be paid less and kept in subjection, they can often obtain work in industries where their parents cannot. They will thus be found doing work that might otherwise be mechanized: In the glass bangle industry of India they carry molten glass on rods just two feet from their bodies and pull threads of glass from furnaces at white hot temperatures. A quarter of the workers in this industry are children - 50,000 of them in all. Children work leather in Italy, make bricks in Colombia and Peru, and mine diamonds and gold in Ivory Coast and South Africa and coal in Colombia.

In addition to domestic, agricultural and industrial work, the UNICEF report exposes the world wide multibillion dollar sex industry. The underground and illegal nature of this enterprise makes it difficult to know the numbers of children involved - mostly girls - but UNICEF cites non- governmental organizations in the field as specifying at a million the number children drawn into this web of slavery.

Here they face the possibility not only of immediate abuse but of exposure to drugs, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases including the invariably fatal HIV infection. Until they succumb to these ills, they serve the appetites both of local men and of international sex tourists. Estimates put the number of children in the U.S. alone involved in this sordid trade at 100,000.

Children work the streets of the rapidly expanding cities in the developing world. They sell whatever they can in the very dangerous milieu of modern urban life. Others, having nothing to sell, live even more marginal lives, begging, stealing and scavaging whatever they can find - plastics, rags, paper, cans - to sell for recycling. Still others live totally illicit lives in crime syndicates as pickpockets, burglars, drug traffickers and prostitutes.

Most street children have homes to which they return each night where they give over their meager earnings, but about one in 10 is homeless and lives permanently on the street. All of these children lack access to schooling of any kind.

Local merchants often regard them as nuisances and they can be systematically murdered - as they have been in the streets of Rio de Janeiro for at least the last seven years. There was a worldwide reaction of horror when the media exposed the murder of six street children there in 1993, but the killing continues, reportedly about three children each day.

Because these children are poor, they grow literate only in their knowledge of grinding poverty and hard and dangerous work. If they survive into adulthood, they are doomed to perpetuate the misery with their own children.

To break this bitter cycle, children must be provided free and compulsory education and those who must work must be provided that work under humane conditions. So stipulates the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by United Nations General Assembly in 1990. This, the most widely and rapidly accepted human rights convention in history, has been ratified by all but the United States and five other nations.

National laws on child labor and the legal rights of children must protect the majority of children who work in the informal sector and within their own households as well as those in the formal workplace. All children need to be registered at birth in order to protect their access to education and to health care, and to provide proof of age to employers and labor inspectors. National and international corporations that employ child labor must be obliged to abide codes of conduct which allow children to work under conditions that do not violate their rights as children.

Lest we be deceived into believing that the rights specified in the Convention are only dreams for a future we may not live to see, we should remember Cuba. Though a developing nation, its infant mortality rate - 7.8 per 1,000 live births - is among the lowest in the world, while its literacy rate - 96 percent - is among the highest. In spite of the criminal blockade imposed by its giant neighbor to the north, not a single school or hospital has been closed, and health care is free and available to all.

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