Tens of millions of the world’s youngsters are forced to work in dangerous conditions despite international laws protecting them, the U.N. children’s agency said in its annual report.
The UNICEF report cited examples such as Indian child carpet-weavers working up to 20 hours a day and Malaysian children risking snake bites on rubber plantations.
In Portugal, children as young as 12 were slogging in the construction industry, while in the United States, children worked on pesticide-ridden farms and garment sweatshops, the report said.
The United Nations praised India’s Supreme Court decision ordering the government to end what has been termed child slavery, a problem that has embarrassed India internationally.
“It shows that India is at last serious about dealing with the problem,” said Jon Rhode, director of UNICEF programs in India.
As many as 100 million boys and girls are believed working in homes and factories across India. Tuesday’s court judgment called for the creation of a fund to help educate children forced to work because of poverty.
“World poverty cannot be eliminated by the end of the decade. But hazardous child labor - and the grave violation of the rights of the children involved - can be,” UNICEF said in Tuesday’s report, which marked the agency’s 50th anniversary.
Poverty, poor education and entrenched social traditions were the main causes for child labor, UNICEF said.
“It can never be in the best interests of a child to be exploited or to perform heavy and dangerous forms of work,” the group said.
More than 200 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 in the developing world are working, according to United Nations figures. Of the 190 million children working who are between 10 to 14 years old, 75 percent worked six days a week or more, and 50 percent work at least nine hours a day.
The UNICEF report said the United States, Switzerland, the Cook Islands, Oman, Somalia and the United Arab Emirates were the only countries that had not ratified a convention that offers extensive protection to children.
However, many of the countries that did ratify the convention were not abiding by it, UNICEF said.
Half of the world’s child workers live in Asia, according to the report. In Africa, one child in three works; in Latin America, the rate is one in five.
The report said child labor was also increasing in developed countries such as Britain and the United States, because of the growth of the service sector and the quest for a more flexible work force.
Probably fewer than 5 percent of child laborers worked in the sweatshops of industries exporting cheap goods to the developed world, UNICEF said. Most worked for local economies, selling goods on the street, working on farms or cleaning homes, so their employers are largely immune to international pressure.
In South Asia, parents were pledging children as young as 8 years old to factory owners in exchange for small loans. In India, such bonded labor was widespread in the carpet-making, match-making, slate and silk industries.