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Business

Chocolate is Sweet – But not for all Children

For the millions of children forced into labor, International Children's Day this Tuesday means little. A new UN study reports the problem is increasing at an alarming rate.

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India's young workers

Ask any kid in the western world whether they'd like a piece of chocolate and you're bound to hear an enthusiastic YES!

But maybe kids in industrialized countries would think twice before having a chocolate bar if they knew that children their age had to pick the cocoa beans.

In countries like Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria, where more than half of the world's cocoa beans are harvested, countless children are forced to work in the cocoa fields with little or no wages, according to an annual UN study. Professional child traffickers even sell children from countries like Burkina Faso or Mali to cocoa farmers in West Africa.

Child abuse in a number of jobs

In Ghana, for instance, NGO's report that children as young as seven years work illegally as domestic servants, rock-breakers in quarries, as farmers or fishermen. They are paid poorly, if at all. And sometimes they are molested or abused.

They seldom receive sufficient food or health care, and don't get a chance to attend school.

A Human Rights report prepared by the US Department of State found that 10 to 12-year-old boys have to toil in the service of fisherman in villages along the Afram River and settlements along the Volta Lake in the Afram plains. In exchange, their families get a small amount of money each year.

The same report found that young girls under the age of ten are often made slaves to fetish shrines for offences allegedly committed by a member of the girl's family.

The belief is that, if someone in that family has committed a crime, even petty crimes like theft, members of the family will die unless a young girl is given to the local fetish shrine to atone for the offence. The girl becomes the property of the fetish priest, has to work on the priest's farm and perform other labour for him.

Child labour increased "alarmingly"

Child labour is a problem affecting every single part of the world. Be it slavery, prostitution, child soldiers or hazardous work, children everywhere are being used as an expendable commodity, to be used and discarded.

Though many countries have taken measures to reduce child labour, poverty and the lack of jobs for adults still lead many parents to force their children to work.

The regions with the largest numbers of child workers are the Asian-Pacific, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

According to the report by the International Labour Organization released Monday, the number of children working has climbed "alarmingly". The ILO estimates that some 352 million children between the ages 5 to 17 were "at work in economic activity" in 2000.

"This accounts for a little less than one-fifth of all children in this age group," the organization says.

About 73 million working children are less than 10 years old.

International Children's Day

The United Nations has urged developing countries to spend more on education to help stamp out child labour. "We are not giving up on our ideal world where adults will have a decent job and children can study," ILO's Agustin Munoz said.

In 1999, the ILO said that ending the commercial exploitation of children must be one of humankind's top priorities. It was accepted as a cause that demands immediate attention and immediate action.

Since then many governments, organisations, and individuals have stepped forward to meet this challenge. NGOs, trade unions, and some businesses have launched innovative programs to protect children.

Ordinary people have readily given whatever they could to help this cause.

But the latest figures on child labour published by the ILO this week show that today's children will be old and grey before that goal is within reach.

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