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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – UN Study Says Gains Would Outweigh Costs to End Child Labor - 2004-02-15

Broadcast: February 16, 2004

This is Robert Cohen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

The International Labor Organization says child labor limits economic development. It says educating children instead of forcing them to work would create huge gains for developing countries. The International Labor Organization is part of the United Nations. The agency proposes that child labor be substituted with education by two-thousand-twenty.

A three-year study by the agency compared the costs against the gains from ending child labor. Researchers found that paying for education in developing nations could bring seven times the return on investment.

The researchers also note the other gains that would come from removing the worst forms of child labor. Ending slavery and the sale of children for sex would reduce injuries and sickness.

The International Labor Organization estimates that about two-hundred-fifty-million children are involved in child labor. Of these, it says one out of every eight may be working with dangerous chemicals, breathing poisons or selling sex.

The cost to replace child labor with education is estimated at seven-hundred-sixty-thousand-million dollars. But the U-N agency says the project should be seen as a long-term investment. It says the costs would be higher than returns mostly during the first fifteen years. For example, poor families would have to live at first without the wages earned by their children.

To help balance this problem, the labor agency proposes that governments provide financial help to poor families with school-age children. Several nations including Brazil and Mexico already have support programs in place. The study says governments would also need to invest in new schools, books, equipment, and teacher training.

Juan Somavia is the director general of the International Labor Organization. He says the proposal is not only a good social policy, but also a wise economic plan. He says each additional year of education for an older child adds eleven percent per year to future earnings.

The labor agency says all parts of the world would gain by ending child labor. The study estimates that countries in North Africa and the Middle East would gain more than eight dollars for every one dollar invested. Asian countries would gain more than seven dollars for every dollar invested. And Latin American countries would gain over five dollars.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. This is Robert Cohen.