Over 100 Million Children in Dangerous Jobs, U.N. Says

Children in Dangerous Jobs By Robert Evans

GENEVA -- Over 115 million of the world's children and young teenagers, or more than 7 percent of the total, are engaged in dangerous and life-threatening jobs, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said Friday.

The United Nations agency, which sets standards for employment around the globe, said in a report that the industries involved ranged from mining and metalworking through farming and shoemaking to flower-growing and the banana industry.

In a linked statement, a U.N. investigator said child labor was in great demand by employers because it was cheap "and because children are naturally more docile, easier to discipline than adults, and too frightened to complain."

The statement and the report were issued to mark United Nations World Day against Child Labor which falls on June 12.

The ILO, which defines children as anyone up to age 18, said the total number of young people in hazardous jobs was well over half of those known to be working -- the overwhelming majority of them being in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Extreme poverty drives practically all of them to take up both physically and psychologically dangerous jobs, according to the ILO report, and sometimes the effects from toxic substances they had to work with emerge only later in life.

Five-Year-Olds Involved

Many as young as 5 were employed in such work, although the numbers of small children involved has declined in recent years under pressure from campaigns and public opinion.

But the total number of young people, aged 15 to 17, engaged in such work had risen sharply, the report said.

Campaigning over the last decade has reduced the number of girls involved and now 60 percent of the total number of workers under the age of 18 -- before which ILO conventions say that no one should be employed in hazardous jobs -- are boys.

The report said that the largest numbers were in Asia, where over 48 million children and young people -- or some 5.6 percent of the total in the region -- were earning their living in jobs fraught with danger.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the totals were nearly 39 million, but this accounted for more than 15 percent of the overall population in the age category. In Latin America the total was 9.5 million, or 6.7 per cent.

"Hazardous work is commonly found in agriculture, fishing, forestry, livestock-herding and aquaculture, in addition to subsistence and commercial farming." the ILO said. Many children worked long hours, increasing the risk of injury.

The U.N. investigator into modern forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, said "unscrupulous employers" took advantage of smaller children in often illegal artisanal gold mining.

Boys were sent down through narrow and makeshift tunnels, at a high risk of fatal accidents, while both boys and girls had to handle toxic mercury to extract gold, exposing them to irreversible damage to their health, Shahinian, an Armenian lawyer, said in a statement.

They were also exploited in the flower, banana and palm oil production industries, she said, and in cities where, loading and unloading heavy goods or collecting waste in garbage fields, they were also exposed to physical and sexual violence.

(For ILO report go to bit.ly/lQnm8k )

(Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Jonathan Lynn)

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