The child labour, forced labour and traffic in human beings are social stigmas for any society in which they prevail. Forced labour is a crime and traffic in human being is a heinous crime which cannot be tolerated and allowed or permitted at any cost.
India is alleged to be a source, destination and transit country for men, women and children trafficked for the purpose of forced or bonded labour and commercial exploitation. India is also a destination for women and girls from Nepal and Bangladesh trafficked for the purpose of commercial and sexual exploitation. In addition, boys from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh are trafficked through India to the Gulf states for involuntary servitude as child camel jockeys. India lacks a national law enforcement response to any form of trafficking, but took some preliminary measures to create a central law enforcement unit to do so, said a US report (Indo-Asian News Service, Washington, June 6, 2006), which the US intends to use as a diplomatic tool to raise global awareness and spur countries to take effective actions to counter trafficking in persons. India and other countries placed on special watch list in this regard.
America pretends to be the only country, which is worried about eradicating slavery, forced labour, child labour, trafficking etc., but the reality is somewhat different. The 95th Session of the International Labour Conference of ILO was held at Geneva between May 30, 2006 and June 16, 2006 with reference to worst forms of child labour convention, 1999 (No. 182) ratification:1999. Committee on the application of standards during its discussion recorded certain findings and datas collected by various unions, federations, institutions etc. which are hereby produced for concerned persons? perusal. According to the communication by the International Confederation of Free Trade Union (ICFTU) dated January 9, 2004, to the committee of International Labour Organisation, the United States is thought to be the destination of 50,000 trafficked women and children each year. It further indicates that approximately 30,000 women and children are trafficked annually from South-East Asia, 10,000 from Latin America, 4000 from former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe and 1,000 from other regions. The primary source countries for the United States are Thailand, Vietnam, China, Mexico, the Russian federation, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. According to the ICFTU, this report also indicates that most trafficked women and children are employed in the sex sector, domestic and cleaning work (in offices, hotels, etc.) sweetshops and agricultural work. Most reported cases of trafficking occurred in New York, California and Florida. This was corroborated by the report of the Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force, i.e. a governmental body.
The worker member of the United States (Ms Avendano) stated that a great number of young children worked long, hard hours in United States agriculture under working conditions that threatened their health, safety and well-being. The Fair Labour Standards Act permitted children in agriculture to work at younger ages, longer hours and in more dangerous occupations than children in any other industry, working on average 30 hours a week. Among 15-17-year olds, child workers in agriculture accounted for at least 25 per cent of all fatalists experienced by all working children. United States legislation prohibited 12-13-year-old from working in an air-conditioned office but allowed children of the same age to work unlimited hours outside of school harvesting produce under the blazing sun without adequate water or sanitation.
The three major industries in the United States that employed children were grocery stores, full service restaurants and quick service restaurants. Legal protection was sparsely enforced, labour inspections by federal agencies had declined and records were inadequately maintained. The speaker stated that last year, the Department of Labour had lowered the age below which it was impermissible for fast food restaurants and other retail establishments to employ children to operate deep fryers and grills and to clean grills and deep fryers that had cooked to 100 degrees fahrenheit, in spite of concerns raised by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). This clearly weakened the protection afforded to young workers in hazardous occupations. Another regulatory change allowed for 16-17-year-olds to load paper balers and compactors that met specific safety standards. Such equipments were extremely dangerous to operate. This also represented a serious step backward by the United States in protecting against the worst forms of child labour.
There was an another setback when the Department of Labour had reached a settlement with Wal-Mart, where it had found that the company had committed dozens of violations of the Secretary'shazardous orders in three states, including violations of the prohibitions of loading, operating and unloading of paper balers by 16 and 17-year -olds. The settlement provided the company with advance notification of future investigations and the ability to avoid civil money penalties. When the agreement became public, Congress demanded that the Department of Labour'sOffice of Inspector General launch an investigation. This agreement raised serious concerns over the government'sability and commitment to protect children from the worst forms of child labour. The United States pretends to give the highest priority to child labour complaints. Mr. Steyne, the worker member of the United Kingdom, presented the testimonies of several child labourers in agriculture in the United States. These included Dora, a 15-year-old from Eagle Pass, Texas, who worked every summer in the sugar beet field of Minnesota. She worked nine hours per day in the fields in the extreme heat or cold and often without drinking water for hours. She had also been exposed to pesticides thrown form airplanes. She also missed classes because she and her family had to leave for the fields in May every year. One Santos, 16-year-old, had started cutting onions at the age of five, and had hurt himself many times in the fields and had worked for hours without drinking water. Flor began to work in a fruit packing plant in Washington State at the age of 15, a year younger than the state law permitted. Together with another 100 workers, seven of which were 15 or younger, she suffered poisoning by carbon monoxide fumes and was dismissed by the company because she was underage, without receiving any form of compensation.
The government representative wished to provide clarification with regard to a comment regarding the United States Wal-Mart settlement. The speaker stated that the Wal-Mart agreement was part of the Labour Department'sefforts at protecting young workers. The corporate-wide settlement reached with Wal-Mart imposed a number of obligations that went far beyond what the law required, and the agreement secured the payment of 90 per cent of the penalties that had been initially assessed, which was high in comparison to the average settlement rate of 70 per cent. Under the agreement, Wal-Mart agreed to decline from employing 14 and 15-year-olds, even though this was legal in many cases, and it agreed to prohibit 16 and 17-year-olds from using cardboard balers. The company also agreed to make compliance with child labour laws. Most of these measures would not have been implemented in the absence of the agreement. Furthermore, he stressed that nothing in the agreement prevented the Wage and Hour Division from conducting unannounced interventions to protect youth from hazardous situations. He pointed out that the Department of Labour'sOffice of the Inspector General had acknowledged that the Department had addressed its concerns over the Wal-Mart settlement, and that it now considered the matter closed.
Concerning the issue of the employment of children under 18 in work determined to be hazardous in the agricultural sector, the Committee noted the information provided by the government representative that it was true that the Fair Labour Standards Act set a lower minimum age of 16 for agricultural occupations determined to be hazardous, than for hazardous non-agricultural occupations. However, in the government'sview, this differentiation was not in conflict with Articles 3(d) and 4(1) of the Convention that allowed governments to establish standards that treated children of different ages differently, and that treated classes of occupations differently. The government representative had also pointed out that in the United State, laws and regulations relating to the prohibition of hazardous child labour in agriculture were supported by government initiatives to find ways to better protect the health and safety of children working in the agricultural industry. These included programmes to protect farm workers and their children from pesticides, to educate young workers about safety and health in agriculture, and to prevent injuries among children working in agriculture. While taking note of this information, the Committee shared the concern expressed by many speakers with regard to the hazardous and dangerous conditions that were and could be encountered by children under 18, and indeed in some cases under 16, in the agricultural sector. The Committee also noted the statement of the government representative that, although child labour violations across industries continued to decrease, violations in agriculture had increased the previous year.
The Committee emphasized that by virtue of Article 3(d), work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it was carried out was likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children, constituted one of the worst forms of child labour and that, by virtue of Article 1 of the Convention, member states were required to take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency. While Article 4(1) allowed the types of hazardous work to be determined by national laws or regulations or the competent authority, after consultation with the social partners, the Committee noted that the Fair Labour Standards Act authorized children aged 16 to undertake, in the agricultural sector, occupations declared to be hazardous or detrimental to their health or well-being by the Secretary of Labour.
The Committee accordingly requested the government to indicate, in its next report to the Committee of Experts, the measures taken or envisaged (including but not limited to legislation) to ensure that work performed in particular in the agricultural sector was prohibited for children under 18 years where it was hazardous work within the meaning of convention.
The worker member of the Netherlands (Mr. Etty), in addition to raising an editorial point, noted that the length of the Committee'sconclusions was constantly increasing. He said that it would be more productive if the Committee focused more closely on the most important substantive matters in shorter conclusions.
Child labour, forced labour and trafficking in human being is shameful matter for any country. This is continued from the time immemorial, so, it has become a chronic problem to irradiate. It should be removed from its roots. Before eradication of this problem it is necessary to give the priority for the removal of poverty, starvation, illiteracy, insecurity etc. There are certain limitations for every country to cope with this burning problem. This is a global one and it can be removed by the global attempt only.
(The author is former National President, BMS and delegate in the Workers Group, ILO, Geneva Conference.)