ILO Says 246 Million Children Forced to Work

To mark the fourth World Day against Child Labor, the International Labor Organization is calling for the elimination of some of the worst, most hazardous forms of child labor. The ILO estimates nearly one-quarter of a billion children around the world have to work to make a living.

The International Labor Organization says one out of six children in the world today has to work. It says much of this work is damaging to his or her mental, physical and emotional development. The largest number of working children under age 14 is in the Asia-Pacific region, but sub-Saharan Africa has the largest proportion of child laborers.

The ILO says 179 million children are exposed to, what it calls, the worst forms of child labor. They are forced into drug trafficking, armed conflict, prostitution and hazardous work, such as small-scale mining and quarrying.

The director of the ILO's International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor, Guy Thijs, says, in all cases, children work because they and their families are poor. He says the ILO believes a holistic approach is needed to eliminate child labor.

"We cannot just go in and say, 'withdraw the children,' and not look at the consequences for the families, because, in all cases, these children work because of poverty," said Mr. Thijs. "So, our approach is an integrated approach. Child labor is not dealt with in isolation in ILO. Child labor is dealt with in the context of decent work for all. The ILO is concerned about decent work for adults, but, at the same time, looks at child labor, because that is one of the more extreme forms of exploitation."

To mark this year's World Day against Child Labor, the ILO is focusing on the elimination of child labor in small-scale mining and quarrying. The ILO calls this one of the most horrendous forms of work. It is most prevalent in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

It estimates about one million children from five-to-17 years of age work in mines and quarries under extremely dangerous conditions. ILO Senior Occupational Safety and Health Specialist Malcolm Gifford says children are used in mining because they are small, and can go into narrow tunnels where adults cannot go.

"You have very confined working spaces. You have got oxygen deficient air. So, there are breathing problems, as well as excess dust. You will find if you go down into a mine that it is extremely dusty as well as hot," he described. "You also have the risk of tunnel collapses. You need more equipment in order to support tunnels from collapsing and that has been a common cause of accidents over many years."

ILO experts say they believe they can eradicate this form of child labor because of the relatively small number of children, who work in mines and quarries.