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ILO: 17 Million Children Engaged in Child Labor in South Asia

Instances of child labor have often been buzzed about in low cost countries, but a new International Labour Organization (ILO) study on the subject found that nearly 17 million children between ages five and 17 are engaged in child labor in South Asia — one in five of which are 11 years old or younger.

The majority of these youth laborers are in India, with 5.8 million instances reported, followed by 5 million in Bangladesh and 3.4 million in Pakistan, according to the report titled, “Measuring children’s work in South Asia: Perspectives from national household surveys.”

Agriculture commands the largest portion of children’s employment, meaning many are likely working cotton designated for apparel and textile products, for example.

Researchers surveyed seven South Asian countries from 2005-2012 including: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and found that beyond the uncovered instances of forced employment at a young age, a large portion of children (as many as 24 million) in the region aren’t going to school at all.

“Millions of children across South Asia are trapped in child labour and millions more are missing from education, so the need for a massive and sustained response is urgent and critical,” said Sherin Khan, senior child labor specialist at the ILO’s Decent Work Team for South Asia. “The report points to multiple child labour hotspots that must be addressed urgently, by integrating action against child labour into a much wider range of policies, action and reporting systems. We also need to find better ways to measure the problem, so countries can use that information to plan better solutions.”

According to ILO recommendations for policy measures and interventions, reinforced efforts must be made to address innovative approaches to curbing child labor, namely in rural areas.

In order to correlate multiple policy measures and actions and get them working to actually affect change, the ILO suggests focusing on a “Mainstreaming Strategy” as an overarching approach so that specific, targeted measures led by governments will be supported by key stakeholders, workers’ and employers’ organizations and civil society members to address child labor in a way that will be sustainable.

“The report is a wake-up call, reminding us that addressing child labour must be an urgent priority,” Corinne Vargha, chief of ILO’s Fundamental Labor Rights Program, said. “While there has been decline in the number of child labourers globally, most markedly in Asia and the Pacific, the magnitude of the problem in South Asia in particular, is of great concern. The ILO is working with the South Asian governments and partners to help them resolve the problem.

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