International Treaty Targets ‘Worst’ Child Labor

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In a move heralded by child advocates, the U.S. Senate has given President Clinton unanimous consent to ratify a new treaty seeking to eliminate child slavery, child prostitution, child pornography, the use of children in drug trafficking and forcing children to serve in armed combat.

The treaty, which President Clinton has repeatedly praised, awaits the formality of his signature.

Convention 182, as the treaty is called, was originally passed unanimously by representatives of government, business and labor from 174 nations at the June convention of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland. Clinton told the gathering, "Today, the time has come to build on the growing world consensus to ban the most abusive forms of child labor - to join together and to say there are some things we cannot and will not tolerate."

It might even seem difficult to imagine who might oppose the treaty, "Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), approved it Nov. 3 in a voice vote that covered 10 other treaties, and the treaty passed in the full Senate two days later, an unusually rapid turn-around.

But what effect will the treaty have in countries where the proscribed practices involving children still occur?

"What is any international treaty without sanctions going to do?" asked Mary Covington, associate director of ILO's Washington office. "There is something called moral suasion - it represents the growing consensus in the world against the worst forms of child labor.

"This is a tool. These are standards that people can cite and mobilize around."

"We're very excited about the convention," said Darlene Adkins, coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition. "It requires each of the ratifying nations to create an action plan to eliminate the worse forms of child labor and submit an annual report. It will keep countries accountable."

Also last month, the Senate approved 98-0 an amendment to the Africa Trade Bill, proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), requiring countries that participate in that trade agreement to ratify the child labor treaty, which also seeks elimination of any work which imperils the health, safety or morals of children. "When children as young as five or six are exploited for the economic gain of others, everybody loses," Harkin said on the Senate floor.

Proponents of the treaty note that the abuses of children listed in the treaty are already against the law in the United States, even though youth involvement in drug dealing or prostitution has hardly been eliminated.

Contact: Child Labor Coalition, (202) 835-3323.