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International conference on child labor opens in Oslo

October 27, 1997

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ More than 100 million children under the age of 15 work full-time, often in dangerous, exhausting jobs that leave them barely enough time to eat and sleep, let alone go to school or play.

A 41-nation congress opened Monday in Oslo with the aim of ending the exploitation of child laborers. But some of the children, meeting separately in Oslo, worried that clamping down on the practice would end up leaving them with hunger pains.

``People should get together to fight against poverty, and not against us, the working children,″ 14-year-old Rosemary Portilla of Peru told a weekend news conference.

The four-day child labor conference was called by Norway, in cooperation with the U.N. Children’s Fund and the International Labor Organization. Experts were meeting Monday and Tuesday to make recommendations for addressing the problem; government ministers were to meet Wednesday and Thursday to discuss political measures for enacting the recommendations.

``Addressing child labor is not only a question of political decisions and appropriate legislation but even more of fighting poverty and promoting positive social change,″ Norway’s minister for Development and Human Rights, Hilde Frafjord Johnson, said in opening the conference.

At least 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 work, nearly half of them full-time, according to an International Labor Organization study. About 61 percent are in Asia, 32 percent in Africa and 7 percent in Latin America, according to UNICEF.

For many children, the work is dangerous, demeaning and exhausting, including work in mines, as prostitutes or as household help in slave-like conditions.

Child workers from 16 nations, at a separate meeting, were split on whether such work should be allowed.

``We can’t stop child labor, but we have to improve the conditions for child workers,″ said Dibou Faye, a 14-year-old housemaid from Senegal.

Lidja Pereira da Silva, one of roughly 3.5 million working children in Brazil, said she went to work at age 10.

``I didn’t want to start work at that age and I wouldn’t want my children to,″ the 15-year-old said. ``In Brazil, poverty is part of everyday life. Because of this, we children are forced into slave-like jobs.″

Save the Children arranged the separate children’s meeting because it felt that child workers were given too little voice at the main conference, said the group’s spokeswoman Tracey McGeagh.

At the main meeting, ILO official Assefa Bequele said policies must allow children to get a basic education and to have some of the pleasures of youth.

``We dream the same dream, of a world where children are at school and not at the work site, doing homework and not building homes, and on the playing fields and not in the mines,″ Bequele said. ``We are committed to the goal of total and eventual elimination of child labor.″

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