Child Labor Treaty Goes to Senate

(The Associated Press - Aug 6, 1999)

WASHINGTON - The Clinton administration has sent to the Senate an international treaty intended to protect children from jobs that expose them to danger or exploitation.

``I urge the United States Senate to support this convention to demonstrate our commitment and enhance our ability to help lead the world in eliminating the worst forms of child labor,'' said Clinton in a statement Friday.

Administration officials said they sent the treaty to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee late Thursday to begin the ratification process. Treaty matters have caused severe strains in the past between the administration and the committee chairman, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C.

This time, however, a spokesman for Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the panel's senior Democrat, said Helms joined Biden in passing the word that they would welcome a chance to consider the child-labor treaty.

In June, the Senate passed without opposition a nonbinding resolution, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, stating generally that the U.S. should condemn abusive child-labor practices around the world.

``There's no way to handicap how this is going to go,'' said Chris Madison, Biden's spokesman, but he added: ``We certainly think that this is going to be taken seriously.''

Helms' spokesman Marc Thiessen refused comment. He said the senator and his staff are evaluating the treaty.

The Foreign Relations chairman has blocked consideration of a nuclear test ban treaty Clinton signed in 1996. He has threatened to hold up other accords as well, because of a disagreement with the administration over pending updates to antiballistic missile treaties with Russia.

The Clinton administration played a leading role in negotiating the child labor treaty, unanimously approved in June by delegates to the 174-country International Labor Organization, an arm of the United Nations.

The accord would require no changes in U.S. law, a review by the administration and legal experts from the AFL-CIO and the Council for International Business concluded. The council and the union federation are among U.S. representatives to the ILO.

ILO countries must separately ratify the treaty, and President Clinton has urged that the United States set an example.

The treaty targets only the most egregious forms of child servitude, including slavery and debt bondage; the use of children for prostitution, in pornography or illegal activities such as drug trafficking; and particularly hazardous work such as mining.

It also condemns the ``forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict'' but not voluntary military recruitment of those under 18. The United States is among several countries that allow 17-year-olds with parental approval to join the armed forces.

The treaty urges governments to impose criminal penalties, specify preventive measures and act to help child victims recover through such remedies as free basic education.

Senate consideration of the treaty could not begin before Congress returns from its traditional August recess, after Labor Day. Ratification would require a two-thirds majority vote.

(AP-NY-08-06-99 1738EDT)


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