Child ‘slaves’ trek to talks

Published April 1, 1998


Children are travelling to Geneva, on foot and using other forms of transport, from as far away as Brazil, South Africa and the Philippines in a campaign to stop the abuses of child labour.

Four children, with adult minders, set out from Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Feb. 25 for the Global March against child labour. To reach the U.S. capital, Washington, they will travel 7,600 kilometres, then be flown to Geneva, where the International Labour Organization begins a meeting on June 1 to draft a new international convention on child labour.

A child carries his baby sister on his back in Xa Linh, Vietnam, about 160km south of Hanoi. The United Nations has reported that in Vietnam, one of the world’s poorest countries, some children work long hours in dangerous conditions for no pay. Official government figures estimate that around 29,000 children below the age of 15 are victims of exploitative labour. [RNS/Reuters] Another group of children and minders set off from Manila, Philippines, in January, with more children due to leave from Cape Town, South Africa, Mar. 21 and from London in May.

The children will not cover the entire distance to Geneva on foot, but will also use other forms of transport, such as airplanes.

The walkathon is billed as the biggest action in history by and for children. As they cross countries and continents, groups of marchers will be joined by throngs of local people.

Eileen Maybin of the UK-based charity Christian Aid, one of the principal sponsors, told ENI: “We expect the march will generate a great deal of community involvement en route, with the marchers staying with local well-wishers.”

The organizers of the Global March Against Child Labour plan to hold a mass rally in Geneva to coincide with the ILO meeting, which starts June 1.

There are 250 million child workers world-wide, many of them “modern-day slaves”, according to Christian Aid. “Around the world from dawn to dusk you can find children working down mines, hunched over carpet looms, scrubbing their employers’ floors. Many are separated from their families and are working unpaid.”

Kailash Satyarthi, international co-ordinator for the march, said: “In Asia child labour has been a prominent issue for the past 10 years, but in Latin America it is only just coming into the public eye in a major way. I fully expect this march to be the beginning of a recognized movement towards the eradication of child labour in Latin America.”

When they reach Geneva, the children will demand that the ILO (which is part of the United Nations): insist that no child under 14 be forced to work full time; recognize that forcing children of primary school age to work instead of attending school is a violation of human rights; set targets and dates to get rid of the worst forms of child labour.

Sao Paulo marchers will cross Brazil, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico, then leave Washington for Europe. Asian marchers will take in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Europe to Geneva.


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