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Child labour in Ecuador, an obstacle to development - UN Expert on slavery

QUITO (2 February 2010) – The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, said yesterday that “the Government of Ecuador has demonstrated a genuine commitment to the elimination of child labour, including its worst forms, domestic servitude, forced labour and debt bondage.”

However, at a press conference in Quito at the end of her assessment visit to the country, the UN expert stressed that “despite the progress made, the extent of child labour remains alarming and domestic servitude and debt bondage are challenges still to be overcome.”

“Child labour in all its forms is an obstacle to the development of Ecuador where a high percentage of the population are children,” stressed the human rights expert. However, she congratulated the new administration “on the strong political will shown and comprehensive, holistic approach adopted to address the worst forms of child labour and other contemporary forms of slavery.”

“I am very encouraged by a number of exemplary initiatives instigated by the Government of Ecuador, UN agencies, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders to eradicate the worst forms of child labour and to address the situation of child-workers,” said Ms. Shahinian, “but deeply regret that those programmes have yet to achieve universal coverage and be accessible to all.”

The UN independent expert on slavery also assessed during her mission instances of labour exploitation, inhuman and degrading treatment as well as discrimination. These situations, which exacerbate labour and other forms of exploitation, which amount to contemporary forms of slavery, are encountered particularly by the large refugee and asylum-seeking community of Colombian nationals as well as sectors of the Ecuadorian population, including afro-ecuadorians, montubios and indigenous peoples.

“I am very concerned about the dire conditions of refugees and asylum-seekers and wish to stress that the Government is responsible for their protection and the restoration of their rights,” said Ms. Shahinian. “Urgent measures are required to protect and restore the rights of these people and to create an environment conducive to the elimination of labour exploitation and slavery in these areas.”

On the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers, the expert noted: “During my visit to provinces outside Pichincha, I observed that international standards for the protection of these groups are not sufficiently implemented, despite the Government’s liberal immigration policy.”

“It is only by investing adequately in all children, regardless of ethnic or national origin, immigration or other status, that Ecuador will ensure sustainable development and prosperity for the decades ahead,” stressed Ms. Shahinian. “I strongly encourage the Government to mainstream gender, intercultural and plurinational perspectives into all programmes, plans and policies so that they achieve social inclusion and, therefore, coverage for all children and their families.”

The UN expert concluded a visit to Ecuador, conducted from 25 January to 1 February 2010, at the invitation of the Government, where she met with Government officials, NGOs, UN agencies present in Ecuador, academics and grass roots leaders from different sectors of the population including refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants, indigenous peoples, afro-ecuadorians and campesinos. She also met with domestic and sex workers, children, and workers in different industries, including the informal economy, gold mining, banana, oil palm and flower plantations.

Ms. Shahinian visited Quito, as well as Machala in the province of El Oro, Esmeraldas, and San Lorenzo in the province of Esmeraldas, and Lita and Ibarra in the province of Imbabura.

The Special Rapporteur will submit a report on her visit to Ecuador to a forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council.

Ms. 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 human trafficking. Ms Shahinian is also a former trustee of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary forms of Slavery.