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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

50,000 Children in City Workforce

MTA boy carting away trash from restaurants on Kamergersky Pereulok on Thursday.
Alkhan gets up at the crack of dawn to show up for work at the square in front of Kievsky Station.

The Tajik boy, who doesn't look a day older than 10, hustles between kiosks and delivery trucks, fetching heavy boxes with soft drinks and ice cream for vendors and collecting their garbage. He calls it a day when the square empties of passengers and street vendors.

"I live with my mother," the boy, wearing a grimy panama hat pulled low over his eyes, says defiantly when stopped by a reporter.

He says he finds his work exciting and quickly gets suspicious when asked how much money he earns in a day.

"Get out of my face," he snaps, turning on his heel to return to work.

Alkhan is one of what the International Labor Organization estimates are 1 million child laborers under the legal working age of 14 in Russia. About 50,000 children are working full-time in Moscow, and 16,000 in St. Petersburg, the ILO said in a report.

The Labor Code forbids children under 14 from working full-time.

The ILO said most child laborers are homeless. The majority of working children in Moscow hail from the former republics of the Soviet Union, while the rest are from Russian provinces including the Moscow region.

Many of the children are engaged in hazardous work such as loading heavy boxes and containers at outdoor markets and cleaning trading areas, according to the ILO report. Some work as night guards or spend long hours hauling garbage and washing cars. Others are involved in criminal activities such as theft and prostitution.

"It is very dangerous for the children, as they face physical and mental problems, diseases and accidents and, of course, they do not go to school," said Pirjo Mikkonen, coordinator of an ILO program to eliminate child labor.

Mikkonen said that the ILO's report on child labor in Moscow was compiled after conducting interviews with about 1,500 children last summer. The interviews showed that many of those who were supporting themselves had run away from homes with hard-drinking parents.

The government acknowledges that child labor is a problem.

Labor and Social Development Minister Alexander Pochinok warned earlier this month that child labor "has taken on considerable proportions in Russia in recent years."

He said that 12,000 violations were registered last year and 16,5000 criminal cases were opened in connection with child labor, Itar-Tass reported.

The ILO estimates that 10 percent to 30 percent of child laborers are involved in criminal activities such as stealing, selling stolen property and drugs. Another 20 percent to 30 percent sell their bodies for sex. All street children under the age of 13 are involved in some sort of work, the ILO said.

The government said there were about 50,000 homeless children in Moscow and 1 million across the country in January, when President Vladimir Putin ordered ministers to resolve the problem. Government officials could not immediately say whether the number of homeless children had decreased under Putin's initiative.

Andrei Mayakov, who heads the nongovernmental organization Service to Assist Orphans and Homeless Children, said from his experience he believed most homeless children make a living by begging.

Vera Barbysheva, an official at the city-funded Children of the Street Center, said those who hit the street at a younger age are more likely to get involved in criminal activities than those who are older.

Barbysheva added that she met a group of runaway children at Kazansky Station who worked to pay for the room they rented.

Employers of child laborers who were interviewed by the ILO said that the work is good for them because they would otherwise turn to crime.

The ILO's global report on child labor was presented by ILO executive director Kari Tapiola in Moscow during the May holidays. The report said 246 million children are working worldwide, or one in every six children aged 5 to 17. Areas identified as hotbeds of child labor were Asia, Africa, Latin America and some Caribbean islands.

Pochinok said Russia may soon join International Convention 182 banning child labor. Once Russia does so, it will have to create a database of children who are at risk and toughen punishment for those employing children. He said the Labor Ministry has submitted a number of related amendments to the State Duma.