Child Labor

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President Kennedy once said, "A child miseducated is a child lost." Around the world today, we have more than 100 million children between 6 and 11 who will never attend school, in what UNICEF has accurately labeled a "silent catastrophe." Many of these children are toiling right now in dingy sweatshops and enduring backbreaking labor.

It is said that the future is written on the faces of children. If so, that future is full of both hope and despair. To see the bright eyes of a young girl attending school for the first time is to see the prospects of an unlimited horizon. To see the world weariness in the tired features of a twelve year old who had already known a lifetime of work is to understand the crushing burden poverty places on children.

It takes but a glance to understand the simple truth: child labor is simply wrong. Child labor is wrong because it robs children of their potential, swapping the meager wages of menial labor for any hope they might experience a brighter future. Child labor is wrong in the eyes of the world, because we know that children should be in school rather than at work. Child labor is wrong because it undermines the very core hope of securing lasting social and economic progress in the developing world.

It our responsibility -- national governments, non-governmental organizations, and donors alike -- to act to right these wrongs.

As the head of a development agency, I believe deeply that development is a critical issue for the future of all the world's citizens, rich and poor alike. Understanding that fact, it is imperative we speak to the threat to this future posed by child labor.

Over the long run, a nation's greatest asset is human capital. Human capital does not simply materialize, nor can it be conveniently purchased. It must be cultivated over the long term. Human capital is not a commodity, but rather a distillation of our deepest values, our hopes, our dreams. A healthy, educated, well-trained citizenry is development.

How is human capital generated? Through education and the intellectual growth of our children. We all recognize, and this conference's Agenda for Action makes explicit, that child labor and basic education are deeply related. They are opposite sides of the same coin. Children who are at work cannot be at school. Children whose parents see the value of education, and who are afforded the possibility of learning in a safe and appropriate school, will not forced to make the devil's bargain of sending their children to work before their time. But in too many places this remains an empty hope; far too many parents see no option but to try and generate enough income to keep the wolf away from the door for another day.

This year, toward the goal of combatting child labor, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) formally adopted basic education as one of our five fundamental goals in support of sustainable development. We have now made explicit what has been implicit in United States policy for many years: our fundamental principle that no person should reach adulthood without the basic skills that come from a decent education.

This is more than just rhetoric: this year, we plan to invest more than one hundred million dollars in basic education in developing countries around the world. And we expect to maintain this commitment over the years to come.

We will focus our education resources on those countries, particularly the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa, in which a high proportion of the children who will be entering adulthood early in the next century do not currently have effective access to primary education. And under a commitment made at the Social Summit by the First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton, we will invest heavily in assuring that girls receive full and equal benefit from educational opportunities in their countries. I urge our partners, both in the...
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