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Message-ID: <Pine.3.89.9804141158.A27553-0100000@bluestem.prairienet.org>
Date: Tue, 14 Apr 1998 11:46:46 -0500
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Dennis Grammenos <dgrammen@PRAIRIENET.ORG>
Subject: DPA: 2.5 million children forced to work in Colombia

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 14 Apr 1998 10:45:07 -0500
From: Dennis Grammenos <dgrammen@UX1.CSO.UIUC.EDU>

2.5 million children forced to work in Colombia

Hendrik Groth, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Monday 13 April 1998

BOGOTA -- Coal is an important source of export earnings in Colombia. The South American country has large reserves, enough experts believe, to supply 10 per cent of world demand. The country's coal mining companies export about 60 million tons each year --at very low prices. It is no wonder that in many mines children are employed instead of more expensive, well-trained workers.

For the child labourers --often as young as 10-- basic safety precautions, protection against coal dust and minimum employment benefits are concepts as foreign to them as a classroom.

According to the Geneva-based International Labour Organization (ILO), 26 per cent of children in Latin America are forced to work hard for their living. Human rights organizations estimate that about 2.5 million children in Colombia are forced to work.

In the cities, children usually begin their working lives at the age of 10. According to the United Nations, only about 60 per cent leave school with a primary school diploma.

In the provinces, where there is less infrastructure and many families live a hand-to-mouth existence, it's even worse. There, 5-year-olds often have to do their bit to contribute to the family income. Ruthless businessmen and criminals exploit their hardship. In Colombia, children frequently help harvest the coca leaves from which drug traffickers and local guerrillas make cocaine.

The kids would love to have a five-day week. Instead they work six days, sometimes seven days a week, enjoy no health or unemployment benefits and are paid pitiful wages.

Estimates show that children in Colombia usually work nine hours a day. The poverty that affects many regions of Latin America prevents change for the better. According to the ILO, children's wages amount to as much as a third of a family's income.

But in Colombia, children's rights are not just being violated in coal mines or by the drug mafia. Child labourers also toil in one of the country's biggest export industries --flowers. They work on the plantations where many of the world's flowers grow. In the enormous greenhouse complexes near Bogota, children are reportedly exposed to pesticides that have long been banned in industrialized countries.

And the problem doesn't stop there. Pimps too exploit the economic necessities of many families. Underage girls in particular are virtually sold off to work as prostitutes.

Copyright 1998 Deutsche Presse-Agentur

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