Despite the commitment shown by Ecuador to eliminate child labour, the scourge remains a major obstacle to the country’s development efforts, said an independent United Nations human rights expert.
Following her just-concluded visit to the country, Gulnara Shahinian, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, lauded the Government’s efforts to tackle child labour, including its worst forms, domestic servitude, forced labour and debt bondage.
However, she told reporters in Quito yesterday that, despite the progress made, the extent of child labour remains “alarming” and domestic servitude and debt bondage are challenges still to be overcome.
“Child labour in all its forms is an obstacle to the development of Ecuador where a high percentage of the population are children,” stressed Ms. Shahinian.
The Special Rapporteur noted a number of initiatives by the Government, UN agencies, the private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other actors to eliminate child labour and to address the situation of child-workers.
At the same time, she deeply regretted that “those programmes have yet to achieve universal coverage and be accessible to all.”
Ms. Shahinian also assessed cases of labour exploitation, inhuman and degrading treatment as well as discrimination, which are encountered particularly by the large refugee and asylum-seeking community of Colombian nationals as well as sectors of the Ecuadorian population, including Afro-Ecuadorians, montubios and indigenous peoples.
“I am very concerned about the dire conditions of refugees and asylum-seekers and wish to stress that the Government is responsible for their protection and the restoration of their rights,” she said. “Urgent measures are required to protect and restore the rights of these people and to create an environment conducive to the elimination of labour exploitation and slavery in these areas.”
In addition, she noted that the international standards for the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers in the provinces outside Pichincha are not sufficiently implemented, despite the Government’s liberal immigration policy.
“It is only by investing adequately in all children, regardless of ethnic or national origin, immigration or other status, that Ecuador will ensure sustainable development and prosperity for the decades ahead,” stressed Ms. Shahinian, who visited Quito, as well as Machala in the province of El Oro, Esmeraldas, and San Lorenzo in the province of Esmeraldas, and Lita and Ibarra in the province of Imbabura.
The Special Rapporteur, who works in an independent and unpaid capacity, will submit a report on her visit to Ecuador to a forthcoming session of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.