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Child Trafficking and Child Labor Preventative Programs

Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli, Deputy Under Secretary for International Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor
Remarks at InterAction
Washington, DC
September 16, 2008

Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here today on behalf of the Department of Labor to share with you our work to combat and prevent child labor and child trafficking around the world. I would like to thank Jim Bishop and Ray Lynch and InterAction for hosting this event and Anita Sheth for serving as our moderator today. For me, it’s a special pleasure to be back at InterAction, as I had the opportunity before I moved to the Department of Labor—when I was working with then-Assistant Secretary Ellen Sauerbrey—to get to know so many of you and to learn about the importance of the work you do.

Child labor is an enormously challenging issue, one that requires concerted efforts by so many actors. It is a human rights issue, a governance issue, a health issue, and an economic development issue. According to the International Labor Organization’s 2006 global estimate, there are close to 218 million child laborers between the ages of 5 and 17 around the world, 126 million of whom work in hazardous forms of child labor. Not all children toiling in exploitive labor are captured in these estimates. There are still far too many children working outside of the spotlight; beyond the reach of surveys, unseen and uncounted.

But there is cause for hope. The ILO’s 2006 child labor estimate represents a significant decline of 11% since the ILO’s earlier estimates from 2000. There has been an even greater decline of 26% in the number of children involved in hazardous work. These figures are encouraging, yet exploitive child labor remains a widespread and tragic problem. As I think we can all agree, much work remains to be done. That is why the Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) considers child labor a priority and an issue that cuts across all we do. Each of ILAB’s three offices plays a key role in U.S. Government efforts to end exploitive child labor.

Our Office of Trade and Labor Affairs focuses on tackling the issue through negotiations with our trading partners. One of the obligations of this office is preparing reports on how countries are addressing child labor concerns during negotiations of trade agreements. The Office of International Relations represents the U.S. Government at the ILO, which plays a key role in setting labor standards, including those on child labor and forced labor. Finally, the United States is also the largest donor to the ILO’s international technical assistance program, and our Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking, represented today by Brandie Sasser, handles DOL’s child labor technical assistance programs and child labor-related research.

The Department of Labor has been engaged on the issue of child labor internationally since the mid-1990s, when the current global movement to eliminate exploitive child labor really began to pick up speed. Our earliest work on the issue was research-related, as we responded to annual research mandates from Congress on various child labor topics. That work continues today under the Trade and Development Act of 2000, which requires the President to submit an annual report to the Congress on the efforts of our trade beneficiary countries to fulfill their international commitments to eliminate exploitive child labor. We recently released our seventh annual Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, which covers the child labor situation and efforts to address the worst forms of child labor in 122 developing countries and 19 non-independent countries and territories.

For us in ILAB, our efforts to address the issue of child labor gained further momentum with the adoption of ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor in 1999. This Convention calls on signatories to take immediate measures to eliminate, as a matter of urgency, the worst forms of child labor, which include all forms of forced labor, slavery, child trafficking, child soldiers, and the use of children in pornography and illegal activities such as drug trafficking. Convention 182 has been ratified by over 90% of the ILO’s 181 members.

The United States was among the first countries to ratify Convention 182. However, ratification is an important step, but ratification without implementation is meaningless. The United States has taken seriously its commitment to implement Article 8 of the Convention, which calls on signatories to “take appropriate steps to assist one another in giving effect to the provisions of this Convention through enhanced international cooperation and/or assistance including support for social and economic development, poverty eradication programmes and universal education.”

We are proud of our efforts at the Department of Labor. Since 1995, DOL has funded over 200 child labor eradication projects, worth over $550 million, of which $232 million were dedicated to projects focusing on trafficking. Currently, DOL overseas more than $300 million in active programs in 80 countries around the world. Non-governmental organizations, including many members of InterAction, have been significant partners and are playing a critical role in the implementation of our projects, working with local organizations, communities, teachers, and government officials to foster lasting change. Over the next few weeks, we will be announcing the award of over $55 million in new child labor grants.

We are also proud of the fact that to date, DOL-funded child labor elimination projects have rescued or prevented over 1.1 million children from exploitive labor. What we cannot capture in any measure, however, are the intangibles: how a former child soldier feels when he is handed school supplies rather than a gun; the re-found dreams of a girl rescued from commercial sexual exploitation; the pride of parents who, thanks to skills training and the resulting increase in income, can now provide for their family, including their children’s schooling. What you might call these intangibles, which so many people in wealthy countries take for granted, are what motivate and push us forward in our work to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, exploitation, and despair.

Children are a nation’s most valuable asset. No nation, no matter how poor, can afford to neglect the education of its children. I have personally been in meetings with Ministers of Labor, who recognize the problem that large numbers of their children are working at the expense of their education, and they will ask me “But how can we afford to remove them all from the workforce and send them to school?” And my answer is “How can you afford not to?”

Global studies have shown that the economic benefits of education far outweigh the costs. When children are forced into exploitive work at the expense of education, they miss out on a unique window of opportunity to gain literacy and the other skills necessary to succeed in life. When this opportunity is missed, not only are a child’s future prospects diminished; the human capital and future productivity of our societies are undermined. This is why the ILO’s 2008 World Day Against Child Labor focused on education as the right response to child labor and why DOL technical assistance programs focus on education as the key strategy for preventing and eliminating child labor.

I would like to share with you a real example, what we might call one of our “faces of change,” of how a DOL-funded project has changed the lives of a girl and her family, and many others like them, in the carpet belt of Pakistan:

Kaveeta spent much of her childhood weaving carpets, like many other children in the Tharparker district of Pakistan’s Sindh province. Kaveeta, along with her brother and sister, became part of the district’s carpet weaving work force when her father, unable to provide for his family’s basic needs, took out a loan from a village carpet contractor. In return, Kaveeta’s father pledged one of his sole assets: the labor of his children. After the contractor installed a carpet loom in the family’s home, it seemed as if Kaveeta, her brother, and her sisters would never experience life beyond the looms. Like so many other child carpet weavers, Kaveeta and her siblings worked under difficult conditions. They were required to work long hours crouched in uncomfortable positions in a room that lacked adequate ventilation and lighting. In addition, their work exposed them to the risk of a variety of health problems, including respiratory disease due to inhaling wool fibers, skin disorders, and skeletal deformities.

In order to combat exploitative child labor in Pakistan’s carpet industry, DOL funded a multi-faceted program, implemented by the International Labor Organization’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor, to withdraw and prevent children like Kaveeta from carpet weaving. The project introduced non-formal education (NFE) in project-supported centers offering education and support services to children who were behind in school and had yet to complete their primary education. The centers also provided pre-vocational education so that children would have employment alternatives when they reached the legal employment age. The project had a profound impact on the lives of many children, especially girls like Kaveeta. Even if Kaveeta hadn’t been put to work on the carpet loom, she would not have had access to an education, as there was no girl’s school in her village. With the introduction of the non-formal education program for both boys and girls, Kaveeta was able to embark on her studies.

In addition to its direct education services to children, the project worked to create income-generation alternatives for families like Kaveeta’s which had become highly dependent on the earnings of their children involved in the carpet industry. The project recognized the economic realities of life in the region by providing families of working children, particularly the mothers of the children enrolled at the NFE centers, with the chance to get training and job skills.

The carpet manufacturers themselves played an important role in the project. The Pakistan Carpet Manufacturers and Exporters Association has established a Skills Training Institute to cultivate “master trainers” in the carpet industry who train adults living in rural areas. The Association also operates and funds NFE centers and has established hospitals for carpet industry workers.

Kaveeta is no longer working. Today, the same father who had once contracted out his daughter’s labor is now actively involved in the project’s awareness-raising campaign. Kaveeta’s father is hopeful that one day his daughter and other children will transition from the NFE center to a government school where they can sit proudly at a school desk, and the long, arduous days of carpet weaving will be nothing but a distant memory.

The Department of Labor has learned a lot in the many years that we have been working to address this challenging and complex issue. One critical lesson is that to successfully eradicate the worst forms of child labor, we need renewed and sustained action by many actors. Governments, the private sector, international organizations, and civil society each have a unique role to play, and we can accomplish so much more when we combine our strengths through partnerships.

Another critical lesson is that a piecemeal approach does not work. While we do not prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution, there are basic approaches that work and we stand by them. We support a basic, comprehensive approach, with five fundamental goals:

  • Withdrawing or preventing children from exploitive child labor through the provision of direct educational services that take into account the specific circumstances of child laborers;
  • Strengthening policies on child labor and education and the capacity of national institutions to combat child labor.
  • Raising awareness of the importance of education for all children and mobilizing a wide range of actors to improve and expand education infrastructures;
  • Supporting research and the collection of reliable data on child labor; and
  • Ensuring the long-term sustainability of these efforts by building local and national capacity to address the issue. The projects we fund strive to build capacity by supporting legal reform, building child labor concerns into national policies on education and poverty alleviation, boosting enforcement capability by training labor inspectors, assisting with national child labor surveys, and encouraging reform in educational curricula. A critical message is that we do not aim to be a substitute for what national governments are or should be doing, but rather to support and provide momentum to governments’ own efforts.

With this in mind, I want to pose three challenges for those of us working to combat child labor.

  • First, we need to make sure that the education we are offering to children at-risk is relevant to their lives.
  • Second, we need to be searching for effective and efficient interventions that have impact, leverage resources, and that can be scaled up and sustained.
  • Third, we need to continue to press national governments to take ownership and become leaders in the fight to end child labor. This requires political will and an investment of resources—both financial and human—on an ongoing basis.

As Kaveeta’s story suggests, we can help change the lives of children whose childhood may otherwise be lost. We can also help change attitudes about education in the communities where these children live and even help transform national education systems.

On that note, I would like to briefly discuss ILAB’s relatively new mandate under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 (TVPRA). The TVPRA mandated that DOL develop and make available to the public a list of goods from countries believed to be using forced labor or child labor in their production. ILAB is relying on an extensive body of research, public submissions, and input from U.S. Embassies overseas to develop a draft list, which will be finalized in consultation with other USG partners and released in 2009. You can help us in this endeavor by passing along to us any and all information you might be able to obtain through your experience on the ground. The purpose of the list is not to “name and blame” but rather to affect change. This list will be an additional policy tool that could promote further efforts to eliminate child labor and forced labor. Public- private partnerships are one important piece of this.

Finally, I would like to highlight the important collaboration between the Departments of Labor and State in finding viable solutions to address exploitative child labor and human trafficking. One important outcome of that collaboration is the Declaration of Achievements that was signed by 13 Cabinet members and heads of agencies highlighting the significant achievements the United States government has made domestically and internationally over the past seven years to prosecute traffickers, protect survivors, and prevent human trafficking. This compendium also provides an important roadmap for future work, and I hope that you will find it useful for your ongoing efforts in this area. We have placed copies of the Declaration on the back table for you to pick up.

In closing, I would like to thank you again for being here today and for providing me with this opportunity to speak on the same panel with my colleague Mark Lagon. We all have a lot to learn from one another, and I look forward to hearing from you about your organizations’ experiences in the ongoing effort to eradicate child labor and human trafficking.



Released on September 18, 2008

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