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U.N. Cites Benefits of Ending Child Labor in Latin America

New study estimates net $235 billion in savings over 20-year period

Posted: September 30, 2005

Washington -- Eliminating child labor in Latin America within the next 20 years could generate an estimated $235 billion in net economic benefits for the region, says a new study by the U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO).

The ILO study said the savings would result in children's improved access to universal education and better health care, based on data from 19 countries in the Americas. An estimated 19.7 million children, aged 5 to 17, currently work as child laborers in Latin America, said the ILO.

The study said an overall $340 billion worth of benefits vastly would outweigh the costs of eliminating child labor, estimated at about $105 billion between 2006 and 2025.

Child labor is generally defined as work performed by children that harms or exploits them in some way -- physically, mentally, morally or by blocking access to education.

ILO Central America Office Director Gerardina González said in a September 23 statement that "the net economic benefits of eliminating child labor are positive and quite significant," adding: "Even if we only take economic criteria into account, we can say that it pays. The results obtained [from eliminating child labor] will be a core element for promoting social policies and programs."

The original call for an analysis of the cost of eliminating child labor in Latin America came from a 2004 Ibero-American meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica, of ministers and high-level government representatives in charge of children and youth.

The ILO estimates that worldwide, some 246 million children are involved in child labor. Of that number, 179 million children are exposed to the worst forms of child labor, which endanger their physical, mental or moral well-being.

The U.S. State Department said in a July fact sheet that most international organizations and national laws indicate that children legally may engage in light work, but the worst forms of child labor are being targeted for eradication by nations across the globe. The sale and trafficking of children and their entrapment in bonded and forced labor are particularly hazardous types of child labor.

In its fact sheet, the State Department said that forced conscription into armed conflict is another brutal practice affecting children, as armed militias recruit some children by kidnapping, threats and promise of survival in war-ravaged areas. (See fact sheet.)

Child labor was also the subject of the State Department's May Electronic Journal titled Ending Abusive Child Labor. That journal reported the United States is the world's largest donor to the ILO's International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor.

The full text of the ILO study is available online in Spanish (PDF, 97 pages).

Eric Green
Washington staff writer




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