United States Department of Labor (Washington, DC)

16 December 2003

Africa: US Labor Secretary Chao Begins Three-Nation Africa Trip

press release

Washington, DC — Will visit Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin and Ghana

U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao travels to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Benin, and Ghana December 16-21 to highlight continuing U.S. commitment to end the worst forms of child labor, the use of children as soldiers and trafficking in children. She will also promote programs to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in the workplace.

"The purpose of this trip is to highlight the plight of child soldiers, the worst form of child labor," Chao explained in a Department of Labor press statement released on the eve of the trip. "The community of civilized nations must acknowledge the horror of this practice and all forms of abusive child labor and help eradicate its existence," she added.

Chao said while in Africa she will be launching several initiatives to help combat abusive child labor and will tour a number of sites to visit children who are trying to reclaim and rebuild their lives.

According to the press release, Chao plans to meet with DRC President Joseph Kabila. She will also meet with American and DRC government officials as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGO) and private organizations that are involved in rehabilitating child soldiers.

While in the DRC, Chao will also launch a $7 million Labor Department program to rescue and rehabilitate child soldiers. The program, according to a Labor Department press release, will be administered under the auspices of the International Labor Organization's (ILO) International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor.

During her stay, Secretary Chao will also visit a center that demobilizes child soldiers and helps reintegrate them into civil society.

The secretary's visit is a follow-up to the International Conference on Child Soldiers that she hosted in Washington earlier this year. There are an estimated 300,000 children around the world who are involved in armed conflicts, according to the Department of Labor release.

In Benin, Secretary Chao will see the Minister of Family, Social Protection and Solidarity, Massiyatou Latoundji Lauriano. She will visit with American and Benin government officials and NGO and private organization representatives to discuss the elimination of trafficking in children.

Secretary Chao, a former director of the Peace Corps 1991-1992, will also meet with Peace Corp volunteers and launch a Department of Labor trafficking project and visit two centers that rehabilitate children who are victims of trafficking.

Finally, in Ghana, Chao will discuss stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS through workplace initiatives with Ghanaian and American representatives of the government, NGOs and other private sector groups.

As in Benin, Secretary Chao will meet with Peace Corps volunteers and will deliver closing remarks at the two-day launch of the Labor Department's HIV/AIDS Workplace Initiative.

Secretary Chao said she has had a lifelong commitment to the issues she is discussing throughout the trip.

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