STOLEN CHILDHOODS - THE WORLD'S WORST OFFENDERS

Child slavery is no rarity. Conditions in Pakistan are mirrored in many countries in the region. In many African states, meanwhile, children are not only innocent victims of war, but, as enforced conscripts, perpetrators of violence. In Thailand and Malaysia, Western sex tourism exploits imprisoned child prostitutes and has led to a spread of HIV/AIDS among children who in Britain would be in primary school. In Latin America, the millions of children who live on the streets are subject to kidnap and enslavement. Further information is available from Child Slavery International (tel: 0171-924 9555). The four regions below are probably the world's worst apart from Pakistan. But "worst" is only a matter of degree.

INDIA: Voluntary agencies estimate that more than 55 million children are working in match-making, quarrying, tanning, firework-making, carpet- weaving and glasswork factories. UNICEF figures suggest that 300,000 children work in the carpet industry alone, often as bonded labour in conditions like those described above. This lucrative trade is expected to earn some pounds 4m in 1995-96.

LIBERIA: In 1996 UNICEF estimated that child soldiers were being used in 25 different countries. Light weaponry like the AK47 - available for a mere pounds 4 in parts of Africa - can be stripped and reassembled by a child of 10. In Angola, Mozambique and Sudan, children have been seized and forcibly recruited. Renamo in Mozambique had at least 10,000 boy soldiers. In Sierra Leone in 1995 the Revolutionary United Front raided villages to capture children, who were forced to participate in the torture and execution of their own relatives to "bond" them to the unit. But it is in Liberia that things are currently worst: it is estimated that a quarter of the combatants in the current conflict there - some 20,000 - are children, recruited with varying degrees of coercion; the National Patriotic Front even has a "small boys unit" ranging in age from six to 20.

BRAZIL: In the remote Amazonian region of Para children aged between 11 and 15 are increasingly used as prostitutes in mining encampments. Girls are enticed from towns by promises of respectable work, then imprisoned incommunicado in brothels to service mining settlements which may be hours from the nearest village. The girls allege that the police are in collusion with the brothel owners and are paid to retrieve and beat fleeing girls.

GULF STATES: Children of five to 10 are used as jockeys for camel races. Agents buy village boys from Baluchistan, Bangladesh, Sudan and Mauritania; parents get a monthly remittance of up to pounds 109. Sometimes boys are kidnapped. After international pressure, laws were passed imposing a minimum age of 10, but these are often circumvented. Younger boys are prized for lightness and childish screams which encourage speed in their mounts. Tied to the saddle, they cannot roll free if a camel falls; there are an estimated dozen accidents a week, and have been many fatalities.

JO-ANN GOODWIN

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