UN human rights experts speak out on World Day Against Child Labour

Gulnara Shahinian, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

12 June 2012 – On the occasion of World Day Against Child Labour, two United Nations independent human rights experts today highlighted that of the 215 million children working throughout the world, more than half are subjected to the worst forms of child labour, including sexual and labour exploitation.

“One of the most abhorrent forms of child slavery is found in mining and quarrying, where children start work from the age of three,” said the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, in a news release.

She added that children working in this sector, the majority of whom are boys, “are treated as commodities and face particular physical, psychological, economic and sexual exploitation.”

Recent reports show that with the current economic crises there is more reliance on commodities such as gold, a demand that has increased the numbers of boys and girls working in mines and quarries.

“During my country visits, I have seen how unscrupulous employers take advantage of children’s small physique for artisanal mining which results in their stunted growth. In artisanal mining, both boys and girls handle highly toxic chemicals to extract minerals exposing them to irreversible health damages,” Ms. Shahinian said, noting the physically demanding work the children are subjected to in such circumstances.

The Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Najat Maalla M’jid, said that the sexual exploitation of children is a serious human rights violation which gravely compromises the integrity, health and development of children, as well as the full enjoyment of their rights.

“Although States and the whole international community have undertaken, via the ratification of international and regional instruments and other initiatives, to combat this phenomenon, the sexual exploitation of children in countries of all regions persists and reaches sometimes alarming levels,” Ms. Maalla M’jid said.

She urged States to fulfil their responsibility to protect, rehabilitate and reintegrate victims, provide reparation for damage caused to children, penalize those responsible, change certain social norms, and ultimately prevent this phenomenon.

In addition, both Ms. Shahinian and Ms. Maalla M’jid said that they shared the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) concerns that efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour are slowing down, and called for a boosted global campaign to end the practice.

On Monday, ILO released a report which found that a large gap remains between the ratification of Conventions on child labour and the actions countries take to deal with the problem.

“There is no room for complacency when 215 million children are still labouring to survive and more than half of these are exposed to the worst forms of child labour,” said ILO’s Director-General Juan Somavia.

According to ILO, new estimates released on 1 June showed that some five million children are caught in forced labour, which includes conditions such as commercial sexual exploitation and debt bondage – and this is thought to be an underestimate.


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