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An assortment of products from carpets to toys to ceramics, to clothing, to soccer balls on sale at some of the major chain retailers and fancy department stores come from the hands of brutalized child labor in dungeon-like workplaces in the Third World. Some 250 million child laborers work full time or part time, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Some of the most intolerable forms of child labor such as slavery, debt bondage, child prostitution and work in hazardous occupations and industries, and the very young, especially girls, need the top priority of nations and citizen groups, according to the ILO.

Child labor, defined as children between the ages of 5 and 14 working in developing countries, are favored by employers because they are cheaper and more malleable. Instead of going to school and growing up in healthier environments, these children are taking the jobs that could be done by adults. There are on billion unemployed adults in these same countries.

In recent years, an outcry against child labor has been growing in western countries. In Canada, this protest is being led by a 13 year old boy who has received wide media coverage after returning from a six week tour of South Asia with his graphic evidence and pictures.

The booming business of child labor is booming the harm to these little children. According to a large-scale ILO survey in the Philippines, more than 60 percent of working children were exposed to chemical and biological hazards and that 40 percent experience serious injuries or illnesses. Working too early in life damages life, sometimes permanently.

Lots of lip-service is given to doing something about the industrial and commercial exploitation of children by unscrupulous business. In most of the countries in the world, child labor is explicitly illegal, but nonetheless it is flourishing big time in the burgeoning nations of the Third World. And not only the Third World; the ILO states that “there is evidence that child labor also exists less openly in many industralized countries, including Italy, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States,” along with Eastern European regions.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced legislation (and held public hearings in 1994) to ban the imports of products produced by brutalized child labor abroad. He was promptly informed by the U.S. Trade Representative for President Clinton that his bill, if passed, would violate the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which the United States is obliged to obey along with 125 other signatory nations. The bill went nowhere.

Imagine, child labor cannot be used in this country legally to produce products for sale. Yet our government has tied its hands from banning sales of products produced by child labor. Remember when GATT was being debated in the Congress in 1994, critics claimed it would intolerably weaken our national sovereignty. The GATT protection of child labor products in international trade was one example that was given.

At a recent press conference, Senator Harkin promised to introduce again the import ban legislation that throws down the challenge to the GATT agreement. In the meantime, he has introduced, with Rep. George Miller (D-CA) the Child Labor Free Consumer Act of 1996 to encourage voluntary labeling on garments and sporting goods.

For more information to help you support the ban and avoid products made through abusive child labor, write to Senator Tom Harkin, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. or call him at 202-224-3254.