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“100 million children trapped in hazardous work, some as young as five, we can stop it" says UN Expert on Slavery

World Day Against Child Labour, Sunday 12 June 2011
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“100 million children trapped in hazardous work, some as young as five. We can stop it” – UN expert on slavery

GENEVA – Statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences, Gulnara Shahinian, to mark the World Day Against Child Labour, 12 June 2011:

“No child, regardless of the child’s age or ‘consent’, must be engaged in hazardous work that is likely to harm the child’s health, safety or morals. However, there are over 100 million boys and girls in developed and developing countries that are found in hazardous work, some of them as young as five years old.

The 2011 World Day against Child Labour draws attention to the alarming extent of hazardous child labour and advocates for change. On this day, we must reiterate our profound commitment to the global effort to achieve the complete elimination of the worst forms of child labour, which includes hazardous child labour, by 2016.

Poverty, conflict and harmful traditional practices are some of the main causes for children working. Child labour is in great demand because it is cheap, and because children are naturally more docile, easier to discipline than adults, and too frightened to complain.

During my country visits, I have seen how unscrupulous employers take advantage of children’s small physique and nimble fingers for certain kinds of work. For example, in artisanal mining children, mainly boys are sent down through narrow and cramped makeshift tunnels at risk of fatal accidents. In this sector, both boys and girls handle highly toxic mercury to extract gold exposing them to irreversible health damages. The artisanal mining sector in which they work is often illegal, informal and in very remote parts. The communities in which these children live are often characterized by violence and lawlessness. Children in these situations are exposed to drugs, alcohol, rape and prostitution.

I have also expressed my serious concern about child domestic servitude. Domestic servitude or slavery is a situation when a vulnerable individual is forced, by physical and/or moral coercion, to work without any real financial reward, is deprived of his or her liberty, and is in a situation which is contrary to human dignity. Children are particularly vulnerable to domestic servitude- especially if they live with their employers and/or migrate on their own to find domestic work. The majority of these children are girls. During my country visits, I have also talked to children who were given away to ‘foster families’ who then ruthlessly exploited them as domestic slaves, instead of caring for and educating them.

In many cases, children work in hazardous circumstances that amount to the worst forms of child labour outlawed by international conventions. Hazardous work can include work in the agriculture industry such as the flowers, banana, and palm oil industry, where children often use chemicals and sharp tools, and lift heavy loads. Additionally, children working in the streets, washing cars at dangerous intersections, loading and unloading heavy merchandise and collecting waste products in garbage fields are exposed to various dangers, including physical and sexual violence.

Beside its health impact, hazardous work deprives children of their right to education, to leisure, to family life and to dignity. These children ultimately grow up with very little chance of breaking the vicious poverty cycle, which will inevitably perpetuate into the next generation.

The protection of children’s rights should be a high priority for Governments. I call on all Governments to sign, ratify and fully implement international human and labour rights instruments for the protection of children. Governments should also adopt relevant legislation and develop policies and measures for its enforcement. Governments have the primary responsibility to provide families and communities with alternative livelihoods, access to social protection and basic services. They should encourage community leaders, non Governmental organizations, the UN and others to work alongside Governments in this endeavour.

Gulnara Shahinian was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences in May 2008. She is a lawyer with extensive experience as an expert consultant for various UN, EU, Council of Europe, OSCE and government bodies on children’s rights, gender, migration and trafficking. Ms Shahinian is also a former trustee of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary forms of Slavery.

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Independent Expert: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/slavery/rapporteur/index.htm

For additional information, please write to srslavery@ohchr.org. For media request, please contact Elizabeth Wabuge (Tel.: +41 22 917 9138 / email: ewabuge@ohchr.org) or write to srslavery@ohchr.org

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