Indonesia becomes first Asian country to ratify the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention and the first to ratify all eight core labour standards
BANGKOK and JAKARTA (ILO News) - Asia's gnawing poverty, unemployment and under-employment on the coat-tails of the 1997 financial crisis are keeping greater numbers of children at work � much of it harmful to their physical and psychological health - and exposing them to unscrupulous traffickers who pluck them from their families and use them for illicit activities like the drugs trade and prostitution, says an International Labour Office report to the ILO/Japan Asian Regional High-level Meeting on Child Labour that was opened in Jakarta today by Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.
President Wahid seized the occasion to make Indonesia the first Asian country to ratify the ILO's newest core labour standard: the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182). Last Thursday the national parliament voted unanimously to ratify the Convention, which was adopted � by another unanimous vote - at the 1999 International Labour Conference, in Geneva.
The ratification also makes Indonesia the first country in Asia to have ratified all eight of the ILO's core labour Conventions, which guarantee respect for freedom of association and call for the abolition of forced labour, child labour and discrimination in the workplace.
ILO Executive Director Kari Tapiola applauded Mr Wahid's ratification of Convention 182 - the tenth so far worldwide - as a "logical and encouraging sign that the Indonesian democracy wishes to continue on a firm route towards effective implementation of fundamental principles and rights at work".
The Convention lays a duty on States to take urgent action so that, as Mr Tapiola observed, "even the poorest of poor children - and particularly girls - should not be kept in bondage or forced into prostitution or the service of other indecent commercial aims, or into hazardous jobs which stunt their development for the rest of their life, if indeed they do survive".
Of the 250 million working children in developing countries, the ILO estimates that about two-thirds are Asian. Though exact figures are hard to come by because the worst forms of child labour tend to be hidden, the great majority are thought to be working in hazardous conditions.
Most conspicuous among the worst forms of child labour in Asia is the expanding sex industry, which exposes girls and boys alike to severe trauma, drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, notably HIV/AIDS.
Jobs in the manufacture of glass and fireworks, brick-making, fishing, mining and quarrying have left hundreds of children in the region with permanent injuries and loss of limb. Dangerous pesticides that children manipulate in agricultural work spawn cases of poisoning and severe skin and respiratory infections.
Children are being trafficked across borders not only for prostitution but also for work in begging-gangs, factories, construction sites, domestic service and, more recently, drug-trafficking.
Contemporary forms of slavery are rife. One increasingly common form known as "family bondage" typically begins with a loan to an impoverished family whose children end up waging a losing battle to pay back their " debt" as prostitutes, servants, brick-makers or miners.
Despite long hours, often death-defying risks and the loss of access to education, less than half of the world's working children ever receive any payment for their labours.
Marking the celebration of International Women's Day, ILO Regional Director Mitsuko Horiuchi recalled that girls, who are among the most vulnerable of child workers, are subject to persistent discrimination. Presumed docile and obedient, girls tend to be employed behind closed doors in domestic work and brothels where ill treatment and sexual abuse are hardest to monitor.
The ILO � the only "tripartite" UN organization, in which employers, workers and governments have an equal say - is uniquely equipped for the battle against child labour, whose elimination requires broad-based support from all players.
According to Mr Tapiola, all that a democratic society needs to nip child labour with the methods developed and tested by the ILO is a "healthy combination of political will and public awareness".
Over the past ten years the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) has withdrawn children from work and given them access to education through coalitions of employers, workers, governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations.
IPEC has established integrated approaches to child bonded labour in Nepal; mobilized teachers to prevent child prostitution and trafficking in Thailand; helped trade unions to remove children from brick making in Cambodia; brought in credit schemes and educational programmes targeting children in the informal sector in Bangladesh; and eliminated child labour in the soccer-ball industry at Sialkot, in Pakistan. For less than $20 per child, an ILO project in India removed 4,500 children from hazardous work in the fields and gave them the skills they needed to go back to school.
IPEC has demonstrated that with a supportive legal framework and community backing, it can deliver sustainable economic alternatives to families that always part with their children only as a last resort.
According to government figures there are about 1.6 million working children in Indonesia between the ages of 10 and 14. Of these, seven out of ten work in the agricultural sector. Prostitution, gold mining and fishing from off-shore platforms figure among the worst forms of child labour documented in the country.
A new ILO project that builds on Indonesian government initiatives to halt child labour on offshore fishing-platforms, known as jermals, is targeting the abusive conditions endured by young boys who are left to fish for months on end from platforms no bigger than a tennis court. Child labour in the country's footwear sector is also the focus of another new project in the country.