Cortese Leads AFT Efforts To Eliminate Child Labor

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AFT secretary-treasurer Antonia Cortese was one of the featured participants as the International Labour Organization (ILO) reinforced its opposition to child labor on the 10th anniversary of the organization's statement calling for an end to the most egregious examples of child labor throughout the world.

Antonia Cortese at World Day Against Child LaborCortese, who is co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition—a national network that provides information to help combat child labor abuses and promote progressive initiatives and legislation-attended the ILO's conference in Geneva, where various events were held to mark World Day Against Child Labour.

"The international community must call for immediate action to end what has become an unacceptable norm in many countries that force children to work in fields or factories rather than learn in classrooms," Cortese says. "Child labor should be considered a crime against society that must be stopped no matter where it is practiced. The answer to breaking the miserable cycle of poverty is education, not child labor."

The AFT has developed curricula and other resources for U.S. educators on the plight of child labor in the United States and throughout the world. "The AFT will continue to shine a bright light on this often-hidden problem until it is eradicated once and for all," Cortese says.

Cortese spoke June 12 at an event at Geneva's Place des Nations sponsored by the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour; related events were held in 50 countries around at the world. U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin was among the other speakers in Geneva.

On June 11, the AFT co-hosted a discussion during the ILO conference on forced labor in Central Asia, with a particular focus on Uzbekistan's practice of coercing students and teachers to harvest cotton. Cortese criticized the Uzbek government, which forces millions of students to leave their families and live and work in squalid, dangerous conditions for months at a time. "Teachers often are required to oversee this activity," she said. "It is unconscionable for the Uzbek government to deny children what they need the most to break the cycle of poverty-an education. The situation is especially outrageous since Uzbekistan recently signed the International Labour Organization Convention No. 182 demanding the elimination of the worst forms of child labor."

The AFT is calling on the Uzbek government to immediately cease the practice of forcing students and teachers to work in the cotton fields rather than be in school, and to give ILO monitors free and open access to all Uzbek cotton fields during the upcoming cotton harvest.

In conjunction with World Day Against Child Labour, the ILO also released a new report warning that the global financial crisis could push an increasing number of children, and especially girls, into child labor. The report, "Give Girls a Chance: Tackling Child Labour, a Key to the Future," says that while recent years have seen progress in reducing child labor, the financial crisis threatens to erode those gains.

June 16, 2009