Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Questions (158, 159, 160)

Michael D. Higgins


238 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the extent of child labour in Ghana. [6858/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The law in Ghana sets a minimum employment age of 15 years and prohibits night work and certain types of hazardous labour for those under 18 years of age, as well as prohibiting forced and bonded labour performed by children. However, children are reportedly sold, leased, or given away by parents to work in agriculture, fishing villages, quarry mines, shops, or homes. Studies and reports make it clear that it is difficult to determine the extent to which forced and bonded labour by children is practised in Ghana. Observance of minimum age laws was eroded by local custom and economic circumstances that encouraged children to work to help support their families.

An International Labour Organisation-International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour-Ghana statistical service survey, released during 2003, estimated that 1.27 million children were engaged in child labour as defined by age and hazardous working conditions. Children as young as seven years worked as domestic labourers, porters, hawkers, miners, quarry workers, fare collectors, and agriculture. Child labourers are poorly paid and subjected to physical abuse, they receive little or no health care and generally do not attend school.

ILO-IPEC, Government representatives, the Ghanaian trades union congress, the media, international organisations and NGOs have agreed a national plan of action for the elimination of child labour in Ghana by increasing institutional capacity to combat child labour. Education and sensitisation workshops are conducted with police, labour inspectors, local governments, and communities.

Criminal gangs exploit the miserable plight of families and abduct children. The Ghanaian national plan is an effort to draw attention to this crime and is to be commended. Many missionaries and NGOs are also helping to combat child trafficking in Ghana and the wider West Africa region and their efforts are equally commendable.

Michael D. Higgins


239 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the position of the Government on bonded labour throughout the world. [6859/04]

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The Government is committed to the active promotion of full observance of universal human rights standards, and opposes and seeks the elimination of all forms of contemporary slavery, including bonded labour. Through our participation in international fora such as the UN General Assembly, the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, we raise our concerns in regard to this issue together with like minded countries. At the Commission of Human Rights session last year, Ireland made a statement on contemporary forms of slavery.

Ireland has consistently supported the International Labour Organisation in its efforts to promote core labour standards. In June 1998, Ireland supported the adoption by the International Labour Conference of a declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work. This commits the International Labour Organisation's 175 member states worldwide to respect the principles inherent in the core labour standards and to promote their universal application. Ireland has ratified all of the seven core labour standards.

This declaration emphasises that all member states of the International Labour Organisation have an obligation, arising from the fact of membership of the organisation, to respect, promote and realise, in good faith and in accordance with the constitution of the International Labour Organisation, the principles concerning the fundamental rights which are subject to those conventions. These principles include the elimination of all forced or compulsory labour and the effective abolition of child labour.

In June 1999, the International Labour Conference adopted Convention 182 concerning the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour. Ireland ratified the convention on 20 December 1999 and was the first European Union country to do so.

Michael D. Higgins


240 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the illegal kidnapping of anti-Government rebels in Colombia; the Government and EU position on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6860/04]

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The Government is acutely aware of the kidnappings and other violence which continues to afflict Colombia. The most recent statement of Irish and EU policy in this regard is set out in the conclusions of the General Affairs and External Relations Council of 26 January 2004 as follows:

Recalling the terms of the London Declaration of July 2003, agreed by the Colombian Government and the representatives of other Governments and international organisations present at the London Meeting on International Support for Colombia, the Council expressed its full support for the Colombian Government in its ongoing efforts to reform Colombia's institutions and to develop a fully functioning democratic state throughout the territory of Colombia, consistent with the rule of law, respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, and the welfare and safety of the citizens of Colombia. The Council noted that significant progress had been made in expanding the presence of the State in the national territory, and expressed the hope that all the institutions of the democratic State would soon be fully functional in allareas.

The Council noted progress so far on economic and political reforms designed to address existing inequalities within the country and promote sustainable development, and expressed its support for the continuation and acceleration of this process. The Council also expressed its full support for the Colombian Government in its fight against terrorism and illegal drug production and trafficking, underlining the need in so doing to respect the rule of law, international humanitarian law, and international human rights instruments to which Colombia has subscribed.

The Council welcomed the reduction in the overall numbers of murders and kidnappings in Colombia as indicated by the recently released statistics, and hoped that this downward trend would continue.

The Council reiterated its full support for President Uribe's commitment to seek a negotiated solution to the internal armed conflict, including through direct engagement with those illegal armed groups who may be prepared to negotiate a peace agreement. The Council insisted that the illegal armed groups cease all hostilities and engage in constructive and meaningful dialogue. In particular, while acknowledging the recent release of some hostages, the Council underlined the importance of a rapid release of all remaining hostages and kidnapped persons. Such an act of humanitarian character by the illegal armed groups could be undertaken in the framework of a humanitarian agreement, and would give a positive signal of their intention to take the path of peace.

The Council reiterated the readiness of the EU to assist in reaching a peaceful solution to the conflict, within the framework of a comprehensive peace strategy. The Council also underlined the importance of the role of the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Colombia.

The Council stressed the importance of taking early and effective action against impunity and collusion, especially with paramilitary groups. The Council underlined the need for demobilisation and re-insertion into society of members of illegal armed groups to be undertaken in line with relevant international law and jurisprudence and in a manner that respects the right of the victims of the conflict to truth, justice and reparation. In this context, the Council underlined the particular importance of further amendments to the proposed amnesty law in order to ensure full consistency with Colombia's obligations under international instruments regarding human rights and international humanitarian law.

The Council expressed its deep concern regarding the still grave human rights and international humanitarian law situation in Colombia, and urged the Government urgently to address this situation, in particular by implementing without delay the specific recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), including the recommendation to publish a plan of action on human rights with a timetable for implementation. The Council recalled in particular the UNHCHR's recommendation concerning the question of the granting of judicial powers to the security forces, and hoped that further discussions by the Congress on the law which allows this could be undertaken.

Noting with deep concern the plight of internally displaced persons and inhabitants of closed-off communities, the Council confirmed the EU's willingness to work with the Colombian Government and the UN in order to ensure a focussed and co-ordinated effort to address this crisis.

The Council highlighted the perilous security conditions under which local and international NGOs and civil society organisations, including trade unions and human rights defenders, currently find themselves obliged to carry out their work in Colombia; and called on the Government to co-operate closely with all such groups to ensure their protection. The Council underlined the importance of regular constructive dialogue between the Government and civil society in the search for a peaceful solution to Colombia's problems, and welcomed recent contacts of this kind in the context of follow-up to the July 2003 London Meeting on International Support for Colombia.

Finally, the Council emphasised the importance of achieving full implementation of the London Declaration. It welcomed the work of the Group of 24 countries (London Group), which is maintaining constructive dialogue with the Colombian Government, civil society and other interested parties to this end. In line with commitments made in London, the Council exhorted the Member States and the Commission to further develop their co-operation programmes, with particular emphasis on the democratic strengthening of state institutions, the alleviation of the humanitarian crisis, the protection of human rights, the promotion of environmental activities and the development of viable alternatives to illegal drug production. In this respect, the Council expressed its satisfaction regarding the recent extension of the EU Generalised System of Preferences, including the drugs regime, as well as the launch of the second EU Peace Laboratory, both of which it expects will make a useful contribution to the achievement of that objective.