It is a pleasure to be here with all of you today.
I want to say a special welcome to Senator Tom Harkin, a long time champion on these issues, and Tina Tchen, the Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.
Today, we are commemorating World Day Against Child Labor.
This year, the focus of World Day will be on girls. We want to focus on how we help girls to escape from the worst forms of child labor.
This year’s World Day is also an opportunity for us to mark the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The United States was one of the first of 169 countries to ratify this convention. Since that time, the U.S. has been a leader in supporting global efforts to combat child labor.
We have also demonstrated our commitment to combating child labor by including adherence to international child labor standards as an eligibility criterion for our trading partners.
Now, to put into perspective the issues we will be discussing today, I would like to show a brief video that we have prepared highlighting the Department of Labor’s commitment to combating child labor globally.
We are very fortunate to have with us specialists who are working to combat the worst forms of child labor and addressing the needs of girls around the world.
I want to let you all know how important I think your work is. Issues affecting girls are extremely important to President Obama and to me. In his recent trip to Egypt, President Obama underscored the importance that the United States places on women’s rights and education. President Obama affirmed that “a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous. Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity — men and women — to reach their full potential.”
President Obama has also committed to working with other countries to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.
It is in this same spirit that we observe the World Day Against Child Labor.
We must be the voices for children who cannot speak for themselves, and commit ourselves to ending exploitive child labor through universal education. Work performed by girls is often done in the shadows, tucked away from public view. We must recognize the special challenges of working with girls.
First, given the hidden nature of some of the forms of work where girls toil — including domestic service and commercial sexual exploitation — it can be extremely difficult to collect accurate and reliable data on the numbers of girls affected and their working conditions.
Second, girls who work in hidden forms of child labor are more vulnerable to extreme exploitation and abuse.
Third, it can be far more difficult to rescue girls from hidden forms of work and provide them with the services they need to turn their lives around.
And girls in child labor often carry an extra burden — working outside their homes while also being expected to spend long hours on household chores, including caring for younger siblings.
I want to focus on three key facets of our efforts to stop exploitive child labor, facets that I hope we can expand on in our roundtable discussion.
First — education. Spending resources to educate girls is one of the best investments a country can make in their economic future. We know that mothers who have received the benefits of education are far more likely to send their own children to school than those who did not receive schooling. Education is a key tool for breaking the cycle of child labor and poverty, and societies that do not invest in the education of their girls (and boys) do so at their own peril.
Second — poverty. While accepting that education is a vital necessity, we also need to find effective ways for parents to overcome the grinding poverty that may cause them to choose work over school for their children.
Third and lastly — awareness. To maintain the momentum of efforts that are bringing about change, we need to raise awareness about how child labor negatively affects children, limiting their future potential and that of our collective societies.
I am proud to announce that, this year, the Department of Labor will provide approximately $60 million for projects to combat child labor globally. We need to raise awareness about the costs of child labor and commit ourselves, as each of you have, to making a tangible difference in the lives of children.
Every child — every girl and boy — deserves a chance to develop to their full potential.
I am eager to hear from all of you about how together we can bring new hope and possibilities to so many children around the world.
It is now my great pleasure to introduce one of the true champions in the global campaign to end child labor — Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa.
Senator Harkin has been a tireless advocate of working children around the world, advocating for education as the best investment we can make for children and for society as a whole.
Senator Harkin, thank you for joining us today.
I am also proud to have here with us today Tina Tchen, whom President Obama recently selected to head the new White House Council on Women and Girls.
Ms. (Tina) Tchen has long been an active supporter of women’s rights. As a lawyer, she litigated on behalf of the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services and tried to get Illinois to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Tina, thank you for joining us today.
I would also like to acknowledge the Department of Labor’s Deputy Under Secretary for International Affairs, Sandra Polaski.
Sandra heads up the Bureau of International Labor Affairs — otherwise known as ILAB — which has been at the forefront of the Department’s efforts to eradicate exploitive child labor around the world.
Thank you all so much for being so candid and for sharing your personal and professional experiences with us. We have discussed a number of challenges and opportunities in addressing exploitive child labor and providing children, particularly girls, with the chance for a better future. This conversation has reinforced my personal commitment to combating exploitive child labor, and I would like to share with you how I would like to follow up on it.
First, I would like to meet industry groups and employers that are actively working to find solutions to exploitive child labor in the production goods and services.
Second, I plan to raise this issue in international meetings and with key governments to try to establish partnerships that will sustain many of the efforts that are underway. As I have already done so in my recent trips to the G8 in Rome and the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad & Tobago, I will discuss child labor issues with a number of governments at the International Labor Conference in Geneva next week.
Third, the Department of Labor will take a very proactive approach to reach out to countries that have made the commitment to address child labor and provide technical assistance and share best practices to combat child labor. I hope that you will all join me in renewing your commitment to this issue.
I would like to encourage each of you as you leave this meeting to consider what new and concrete actions you can take to combat exploitive child labor and provide children and their families with a future free of exploitation. Together, I know, we can and will make a difference in the lives of children around the world.
Thank you for being here today and for your commitment to this issue.
Before you leave the building today, I would like to invite you to view a special collection of photos that we have on display on the second floor in honor of the 2009 World Day Against Child Labor.
Thank you all again for being here.