House passes bill to monitor child labor overseas

Congress has taken a first step toward approving a proposal to help millions of the world's children who are trapped in child labor. But the path ahead is long. The House of Representatives has approved a new foreign aid authorization bill, which will require the State Department to assess annually ``the status of internationally recognized child labor rights'' in other nations.

The department will be required to include this assessment in its yearly reports on the human rights practices of individual countries.

Rep. George Miller (D) of California calls House passage ``the critical first step'' toward ending ``brutal exploitation'' of children.

The aim is eventually to forbid Americans to import goods made in developing nations by children in such squalid and underpaid conditions as to almost constitute slave labor. Among the products involved are rugs, textiles, and even laboratory beakers. As the sponsor of this measure, Mr. Miller says that approval builds ``a framework for taking action to stop'' the importation of such goods.

The worldwide plight of these children and the difficulties involved in improving their situation were detailed earlier this year in a Monitor series. The series noted that between 58 million and 200 million children around the world work for wages.

In about a month Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa is expected to introduce a similar measure as a separate bill, which would define precisely what ages of children would be covered.

The overall foreign aid measure is in deep trouble in the Senate, however. It is likely that in order to become law, the child labor provision may have to be enacted again by the House as part of a different measure.

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