THE Geneva-based International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 100 million to 200 million children under 15 work around the world.
Most of them labor in family-based agriculture and small-scale manufacturing, such as furniture, carpets, shoes, and leather. They also work in restaurants, sidewalk sales, mining - and sometimes prostitution.
Employers often pay them less than adult wages, or pay them only with food. According to an ILO convention, the minimum age should ''not be less than the age of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years.''
An ILO study shows that more than 95 percent of all child workers live in developing countries. Asia leads the world, with more than 50 percent of all child laborers, followed by Africa, which has the highest percentage of children working, roughly 1 in 3. In Latin America, the ILO estimates that 15 to 20 percent of all children work.
In July, Bangladesh signed a historic agreement with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the ILO to phase children out of home operations in the garment industry and back into schools.
In the United States Senate, a ''child labor deterrence'' bill was introduced recently by Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa. It would prohibit the entry of goods made by children under age 15 and subject those who violate it to imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of not more than $35,000. The bill also authorizes the president to give $10 million a year between 1996 and 2000 to the ILO to deal with the problem.
Just this month, the US Department of Labor for the first time agreed to give the ILO $2 million for its program aimed at eliminating child labor.