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Children walk the world for justice

Thousands of placard-carrying children marched in the Philippines capital, Manila, last week at the start of a worldwide protest against child exploitation. According to Christian Aid, there are an estimated 250 million child labourers worldwide.

The Global March Against Child Labour involves more than 700 organisations from 97 countries. The six-month march culminates in Geneva at the conference of the International Labour Organisation where a convention on the most intolerable forms of child labour will be drafted in June.

The young marchers, accompanied by adults, will travel by bus and on foot. Some of the older Filipino children will zigzag all the way through south-east Asia, while Latin American children, setting off at the end of February, will walk from Sao Paulo, Brazil, via Argentina and Mexico City to Washington DC.

The African March starts on March 21, with the Europeans departing from London on May 1.

In each country children will tell how their early life was was ruined when they were forced into hard and often dangerous work, for wages that adults would not accept.

According to Shay Cullen, head of a non-government organisation working in Asia, 60,000 Filipino children, 125,000 Thai children and 1.2 million Indian children are being exploited in Asia's sex industry.

Others, like 13-year-old Shaukat from New Delhi, slave in dangerous conditions. The eldest of three brothers and two sisters, he became the family breadwinner when his father left home. After a month working as a cleaner in an eating-house shack his employer refused to pay him. His shift had been from 5am to midnight.

At his next job he slipped, badly scalded his arm and received no first aid. His next job, grinding and packing spices, severely damaged his lungs. Relief came when he was taken to Christian Aid's rehabilitation centre in New Delhi, where he is recovering and receiving education.

The Global March organisers would like children worldwide to become involved in school activities linked to the march. There is a teaching leaflet that teachers are invited to apply for. In the UK, children's footprints sent to Christian Aid will be delivered to the Prime Minister.

Jackie Gemmell

Contact Global March Footprints at Christian Aid, PO Box 100, London SE1 7RT.

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