GENEVA, May 5 (Reuters) Child labour, especially the worst forms where children's lives can be at risk, is declining for the first time globally and could be eradicated within a decade, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said.
Compared with its last figures four years ago, the ILO said the number of working children between the ages of 5 and 17 had fallen 11 per cent to 218 million.
The number of those trapped in hazardous work, where their physical or mental health is in danger, fell 26 per cent to 126 million, the United Nations agency said in a report yesterday.
If the current pace of decline continued, at least the worst forms of child labour could be eliminated by 2016, it added.
''The end of child labour is within our reach,'' said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. ''Though the fight against child labour remains a daunting challenge, we are on the right track.'' The most hazardous jobs are in agriculture, mining and construction, but the definition also covers slavery, prostitution and forced recruitment into armed forces.
The report attributed the improvement to increased political will to tackle the problem, notably in big developing countries such as Brazil and China, and a stronger world economy which reduces the need for poor families to send children out to work.
Some 160 states, 90 per cent of the ILO's membership, have ratified the 1999 Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, up from 117 four years ago. The number of countries adhering to the 1973 treaty setting 15 as the minimum working age has also risen to more than 140 from 116.
''We have witnessed a sea-change in the awareness of child labour across the world, and a broad consensus has emerged on the urgency of eradicating this scourge,'' Somavia said in his introduction to the report.
Latin America and the Caribbean saw the most rapid decline over the four years, with the number of working children falling more than 60 per cent. Only 5 per cent of children now work.
In Brazil, whose President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was himself a child labourer, the number of working children aged 5-9 has fallen 61 per cent since 1992, while employment in the 10-17 age group has dropped 36 per cent.
Asia and the Pacific region also registered a significant fall, but at 122 million it remains the area with the largest number of 5-14-year-olds in work.
But as a percentage of the child population, the worst affected part of the world remains sub-Saharan Africa where 26 per cent, or 50 million, work.
Reuters VJ VP0530