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113 Nations Make Progress in Ending Worst Forms of Child Labor

Working with her family in Malawi’s agriculture fields, where she toils in the hot sun, 8-year-old Ethel says when she harvests produce, “I get headaches and pain in my stomach.”

Ethel is one of 168 million child laborers around the world, 85 million of whom work in hazardous conditions. The 12th annual Department of Labor report, 2012 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, released [Sept. 30], chronicles the progress of 143 governments in combating the worst forms of child labor, which includes working in agriculture like Ethel.

Forty-six governments received higher assessments, and nine governments received lower assessments for 2012 compared with 2011, while 113 governments made at least one meaningful effort in combating the worst forms of child labor, according to the report. Of the 10 countries that received a rating of “Significant Advancement,” five are in South America. These countries—Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru—“made meaningful efforts to combat child labor that go beyond isolated improvements or initiatives,” the report found.

The worst forms of child labor include slavery or trafficking of children, compulsory labor, procuring or offering children for prostitution and other illicit activities and work that is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

“Nations should not build their futures on the backs of children,” said Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in releasing the report. “That’s categorically wrong.”

Separately, the Labor Department removed three items from its list of goods produced by child labor or forced labor, the first time items have been removed since the list was first compiled in 2001. The items are charcoal from Namibia, diamonds from Zimbabwe and tobacco from Kazakhstan.

Three of the 13 countries classified as not advancing received this assessment because of government complicity in forced child labor: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea and Uzbekistan. The other 10 countries were placed in the “No Advancement” category because no meaningful actions were taken to advance efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman joined Perez in releasing the report. Harkin and Herman were key movers behind passage of the International Labor Organization [ILO] Convention 182 on eliminating the worst forms of child labor and were instrumental in getting the U.S. Congress to ratify it.

On Oct. 8–10, the 3rd Global Conference on Child Labor in Brazil will bring together governments, civil society and international organizations for an open dialogue about eliminating child labor. The ILO and its international allies set the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labor by 2016, a goal that recent data show cannot be met.

Ethel was among three child laborers featured in a video shown during the press conference.

This post originally appeared on the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center's website.