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Conference adopts plan to abolish child labor

October 30, 1997

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ Aiming to free millions of children from wretched jobs, an international conference agreed Thursday that children must be required to go to school and should replaced at work by adults.

An estimated 250 million children under age 15 work worldwide, about half of them full time _ many of them in dangerous or demeaning conditions in mines, factories or as household help.

``We are all for the total elimination of child labor ... the slavery, the slave-like practices, the bondage, the children in prostitution, and the large number of children who work in extraordinarily hazardous occupations,″ said Assefa Bequele of the International Labor Office.

The agenda adopted by consensus urges countries to enact compulsory education, remove children from the worst sorts of jobs and replace child workers with unemployed adults. It also wants well-off countries to provide aid to help poor nations attack the problem.

Delegates believe if the plan is followed, the worst forms of child labor could be wiped out within a generation. But the agenda is not legally binding, and delegates can only hope that the 41 adopting nations will follow it.

The conference, sponsored by UNICEF and the International Labor Organization, was called by Norway to find a way to eventually eliminate the whirlpool in which working children are caught.

Throughout the four-day conference, delegates spoke of a grim cycle.

Children neglect their education because poverty forces them to work; with poor education, they have no hope of moving out of poverty; their developing bodies, wrecked by hard labor, are often so debilitated by the time they reach young adulthood that they can no longer work; thus their own children have to labor to support them.

``Child labor is both a consequence and a cause of poverty,″ the agenda said. ``Use of child labor slows down economic growth and economic development and it is a severe violation of basic human rights.″

Some countries are already acting to end child labor. Norway pledged $28 million, while Britain said it would give $1.1 million to help 7,000 children sewing soccer balls in Pakistan.

The United States passed legislation this month that limits imports made by child workers. Sweden and Finland have also pledged funding.

As the ministers accepted the agenda, four Latin American child laborers stood outside with their mouths taped shut in protest. They said the views of working children were not given enough attention.

``We want to tell them that Latin American children are opposed to all bad working conditions, but that we demand the right to work,″ said Derlis Herrera, a 14-year-old boy from Peru who works seven hours a day and also goes to school.