By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Lawmakers from nine countries vowed on Saturday to put aside politics and join forces to help protect children from being forced into manual labor or trafficked into slavery.
In an initiative led by Nobel peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi, 22 parliamentarians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Nepal, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Paraguay and Turkey pledged to protect and promote the rights of children.
The lawmakers concluded a two day conference in Nepal by forming a group called the Parliamentarians Without Borders for Children's Rights to find ways to work across borders to protect children.
"This is a unique initiative, and we believe child-centric politics will begin from here," said Satyarthi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his work fighting child slavery in India.
Delegates at the conference said the world was riddled with slavery, abuse and exploitation of youngsters with an estimated 168 million child laborers globally of which 85 million are engaged in hazardous work.
The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 21 million people in forced labor worldwide, of which 5.5 million, or 26 percent, are aged under 18.
"The abuse of children is not a local problem, it is a global problem, and needs a global response," a conference document said.
"As long as there is a single child denied of her right to live freely, it is a disgrace to our values of freedom, dignity and democracy."
The conference heard that many children were victims of cross-border trafficking, work in armed conflicts or were forced into prostitution. They had no access to education or adequate healthcare.
Brazilian Senator Cristovam Buarque said the newly-formed group would bring together politicians to work across borders to protect children's rights.
Satyarthi said the network of parliamentarians would be expanded to make it a global platform to address the problem of child labor.
His non-government organization Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) has been credited with freeing over 80,000 child laborers in India over 30 years.
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)