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Around the world, many countries have made progress in the effort to eliminate the worst forms of child labor and provide universal basic education for all children.  Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to a number of countries that benefit from U.S. trade preference programs to observe how the Department of Labor’s International Child Labor Program contributes to the elimination of the worst forms of child labor in West Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. 

Each of these visits was informative and inspiring, but one project, in particular, illustrated for me how the U.S. government’s comprehensive approach to combating the worst forms of child labor is achieving results.  In Lahore, Pakistan, I met children who used to work as bonded carpet weavers, but are now learning how to read, write, and do arithmetic in schools.  Their mothers are also being trained in handicrafts and other marketable skills, to help supplement their families’ incomes, thereby reducing the pressure for their children to work.  This project is also an example of how four local and international organizations have worked in unison to improve policies and the delivery of services to children and their families.  When I met with village elders at a carpet weaving center in Vern, they thanked me for America’s investment in their children’s futures and pledged to sustain the efforts that had already been made with America’s assistance and others’.

International assistance is making a difference in these children’s lives.  And it is clear that many communities around the world are willing to work hard to continue the progress that assistance projects have made.

But international assistance is not the only way in which the United States works to combat exploitive child labor.  Indeed, such assistance cannot always affect all of the underlying causes of child labor, such as poverty and discrimination.  Another way in which the United States helps developing nations in addressing the root causes of child labor is through free trade agreements (FTAs).  By opening markets and encouraging free and fair trade, these agreements support countries in their efforts to build stronger democracies, stimulate economic growth, and improve worker rights.

In 2004, free trade agreements between the United States and both Chile and Singapore entered into force.  Also during the year, the United States negotiated an agreement with Australia, Morocco, and Central America and began FTA talks with a number of other nations in Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Southern Africa.  In addition to these new trade agreements, the U.S. government continues to provide trade benefits to developing countries through the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA).  Through comprehensive bilateral trade agreements and trade benefit programs, the U.S. government has made a firm commitment to help developing nations grow and prosper, so that they can provide better employment and education opportunities for all of their citizens.

As part of all of these programs, the United States advocates for the eradication of the worst forms of child labor.  This fourth annual report on the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor is a tool for highlighting the good work that has been done by U.S. trade partners over the last year, and for encouraging further progress.  In this report, we provide new, updated information on the nature and extent of child labor in 139 countries and territories that benefit from preference programs.  The report describes the type of work that children are doing, the laws and enforcement policies that exist to protect them, and the efforts being made by their governments to meet international commitments to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.  I hope readers will find this report useful in promoting understanding of international child labor issues, and that it serves to advance the global effort to eliminate exploitive child labor.

Arnold Levine

Acting Deputy Under Secretary

for International Affairs

U.S. Department of Labor

December 23, 2004

Arnold Levine retired from federal service in April 2005.