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Child Labour

Volume 300: debated on Wednesday 12 November 1997

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What steps the Government are taking to eliminate child labour. [14114]

We are working with the International Labour Organisation and developing countries to support programmes immediately to ban hazardous and exploitative child labour and to put in place plans to phase out excessive child labour and get the children into school. At the international conference on child labour in Oslo last month, I announced support for a new project in Pakistan and my willingness to work with other countries to reach our goal.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for those comments. Does she agree that poverty lies at the heart of child labour and the exploitation of children, and that the way to eradicate those problems is to eradicate world poverty?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is useful to examine our history on the matter and then we learn the right lessons. We used to have high levels of child labour and low levels of child education, but improvements in living conditions, as well as the spread of education, brought child labour to an end. We must have similar programmes in other countries to ban immediately the most exploitative and hazardous labour, and to increase the number of children in education and the opportunities of their parents to gain employment. That process of change is connected with plans for poverty eradication.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on transforming the way of dealing with child labour. The worst problems of many third-world countries are not the young children who work in sensible jobs. Will she focus the attention of her Department on street children, who work on their own behalf and are often badly abused? That should be the first focus of our help; the other problems should begin to resolve as the economies of those countries improve.

The hon. Gentleman is right. The evidence in Bangladesh shows that well intentioned moves by the United States of America to ban the import of any garments produced by child labour led to many children going on to the streets as beggars and child prostitutes. That is why we need an overview of the problem to deal with the most exploitative mistreatment of children and to work with Governments to phase out child labour and get children into school, instead of having one-off boycotts.