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Clinton urges a worldwide ban on 'vicious' forms of child labor

GENEVA -- President Clinton, opening a week's diplomacy in Europe in the aftermath of NATO's Kosovo bombing campaign, Wednesday urged the U.S. Senate and governments worldwide to accept a new treaty banning what he called "vicious forms of abusive child labor."

"There are children chained to often-risky machines, children handling dangerous chemicals, children forced to work when they should be in school, preparing themselves and their countries for a better tomorrow," the president told the International Labor Organization.Clinton, the first U.S. president to address the ILO, arrived here at the start of a European swing whose agenda is dominated by peacekeeping in Kosovo and by economic agreements among the industrial powers -- chiefly an overhaul of Europe's financial systems and a package of debt relief for the world's poorest nations.

After an overnight flight, the president met privately with Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss to discuss humanitarian aid to the ethnic Albanian refugees who fled Kosovo and reconstruction of the Serbian province.

In his speech, Clinton promised he would promptly send to the Senate for ratification the ILO's long-negotiated treaty intended to eradicate abusive child labor.

The organization, an arm of the United Nations, estimates that at least 250 million children, ages 5 to 14, work in developing countries -- nearly half of them full-time and tens of millions under exploitative and harmful conditions.

A broad treaty on reducing child labor was negotiated by the ILO in 1972 but never mustered full support of its 174 member nations. The new treaty targets only the most egregious forms of child servitude, including forced prostitution, pornography, bondage and military service.

"Regardless of country, regardless of circumstances, these are not some archaic practices out of a Charles Dickens novel," Clinton said. "These are things that happen in too many places today."

With his wife and daughter watching from the gallery of Assembly Hall in the Palace of Nations overlooking Lake Geneva, the president added: "We must wipe from the Earth the most vicious forms of abusive child labor."

"We must put a human face on the global economy, giving working people everywhere a stake in its success, equipping them all to reap its rewards, providing for their families the basic conditions of a just society," Clinton said.

He promised the United States would "contribute our share to an expanded trust fund for debt relief."

From Geneva, Clinton was flying to Paris to dine with French President Jacques Chirac.

On Thursday, Clinton is to meet with leaders in France and then depart for Germany to attend the 25th annual economic summit of the world's seven richest nations, joined by Russia.

On Monday, Clinton is to attend a U.S.-European Union summit and then travel to Slovenia, a country slightly smaller than New Jersey that declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Clinton previewed his address to the ILO last week, when he signed an executive order directing U.S. government agencies to make sure they do not buy products made by forced or indentured child workers.