09/09/2004, 00.00
ASIA
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Child illiteracy and child labour are the continent's main social ills

One fifth of India's GNP is generated by exploited minors working in farming sector.

Geneva (AsiaNews) – As the school year began yesterday in many Western countries, the world celebrated International Literacy Day. Organised under the auspices of UNESCO, the event had "Literacy and Gender" as its main theme. According to the UN agency's own data there are 860 million illiterate adults, more than two thirds women. The number of minors not attending school exceeds 110 million, 56 per cent girls.

Illiteracy is directly related to poverty and underdevelopment, circumstances that force millions of children to leave school before they become fully literate and work in conditions where they are easily exploited. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has estimated that throughout the world, 250 million children, aged between five and 17, were engaged in child labour, 155 million in Asia alone.

In Asia child labour has become a virtual system that is particularly abusive of girls. Sexual exploitation has in fact become a major social ill in many Asian societies. Many girls are forced into prostitution in countries like Cambodia, Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan. "About one million children are lured or forced into the sex trade in Asia every year," reports Child Workers in Asia, an organisation fighting child exploitation. "A more alarming fact is that people known to them introduce many of these children into the work," it adds.

Children in Asia are used in different types of work: farming, making leather goods, stone-cutting, mining, toy making, textiles, making brick in kilns, construction, dumpsites. The problem is accentuated by western multinational companies setting up Asian branch plants in many manufacturing sectors, especially textile.

The many wars in Asia compound child exploitation for they provide opportunities to recruit boys into armies. Tens of thousands of them have thus been recruited and are being recruited, often by force, by armies and paramilitary groups. Human Rights Watch reports that many, very young children are serving as soldiers in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. Many others have been recruited by groups such as the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines.

Worse still is the situation in India where human rights activists have denounced child debt bondage. At least 5 million children are forced to work to repay debts their parents contracted or for the cash advances they received. According to Human Rights Watch, very few children are ever ransomed from bondage. Asian Labour Monitor estimates that one fifth of India's GNP is generated by exploited minors working in the farming sector, mostly children of landless families. With 44 million minors working, India has the unenviable world record in child labour. (MA)

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