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More Countries Use Child Labor, U.S. Says

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Forced child labor is still a major problem plaguing the world’s markets.

The U.S. Department of Labor just announced it has added six new products from a dozen new countries, 11 in Africa, to the list of countries that use child labor or forced child labor to produce goods for markets around the globe.

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The Labor Department now says a total of 128 goods from 70 countries are made by child or forced child labor, meaning children under the age of 15, in violation of international standards. Many children around the world work in slave or bondage conditions, the department says.

The Labor Department says an estimated 115 million children worldwide are child workers, working in dangerous conditions that are hazardous to their health, says the International Labor Organization.

More than 12 million children and adults “are trapped in forced labor around the world,” the report says. The list of countries fighting child and forced child labor has grown to 170, including the U.S., which has taken an active role.

Children are either forced by governments into labor, or governments ignore companies that forcibly employ them, in Angola, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand and Uzbekistan, among others.

Under forced labor conditions, children produce jewels and precious metals like diamonds, sapphires, gold and silver; clothes; coal; tobacco; food items like poultry, nuts and sugar; construction materials like bricks; and Christmas decorations, electronic goods, fireworks, footwear and toys; and pornography.

The worst forms of child labor include slavery, forced labor, debt bondage, trafficking, illicit activities like drug dealing, commercial sexual exploitation and armed conflict, as well as hazardous working conditions, such as mining for precious metals or jewels in lakes filled with chemicals and nothing more.

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in a statement: "We consider the eradication of the worst forms of child labor to be a matter of urgency,” adding, “no human being should work under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage or be forced to work under fear of punishment. Shining a light on these problems is a first step toward motivating governments, the private sector and concerned citizens to take action to end these intolerable abuses that have no place in our modern world."

The Labor Department says its Bureau of International Labor Affairs developed the reports based on data collected from U.S. embassies, foreign governments, international and nongovernmental organizations, as well as information gathered from field research projects, academic research and the media.

The newcomers to the list are Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

India has the greatest number of child laborers, followed by China. Smaller nations in sub-Saharan Africa have a higher percentage of children, as much as a third of children under 14, who work in diamond mines or other factories instead of going to school. One in every four children in sub-Saharan Africa was engaged in child labor in 2008, the most recent data available.

But the Labor Department says there is some good news. It removed Brazil from the list for child labor used in charcoal production. And it says India and some other countries have moved to stop child labor through anti-poverty programs and compulsory education. Brazil, Thailand, Jordan, Ivory Coast and Ghana also won praise by the department for their efforts in fighting child labor.

In its report, the department also notes that “some countries with relatively large numbers of goods on the list may not have the most serious problems of child labor or forced labor,” adding, “often, these are countries that have adopted a more open approach to acknowledgement of the problems, have better research and have allowed information on these issues to be disseminated.”

The labor department says these countries “include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, India, Kenya, Mexico, Philippines, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda and Zambia.” The Labor Department says it has spent more than $740 million in programs to help more than 80 countries combat child labor since 1995.

Iowa Democrat Senator Tom Harkin sponsored a law in the late 1990s that outlawed any company in the U.S. from importing goods made via child labor. In 2005, Congress passed the “Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005,” which directs the Labor Department to compile a list of goods produced by child or forced child labor. The first list was produced last year.

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