SUCRE, Bolivia — Legislation was recently passed in Bolivia to allow children as young as 10 to work legally. This will be the lowest legal working age in the world, if President Evo Morales decides to sign the Bolivian Child Labor Law.
The law will keep the minimum working age at 14, but allow children as young as 12 to work for an employer and children as young as 10 to be self-employed, if given authorization by a government office.
The bill is attempting to put measures in place to protect children by ensuring that there be parental consent, voluntary participation of the child and the work of the child to not interfere with their schooling.
These are not very sound ways of protecting children, however. It is difficult to know if children living in families that are struggling to get by are truly working voluntarily or if they feel coerced to, and in almost all cases children’s schooling is affected by work.
While the intention is to reduce poverty, allowing children to work actually will perpetuate it. When children work, they are far less likely to regularly attend school and far more likely to drop out. The result is children with lower education levels, who are stuck in the cycle of poverty, working low-skill, low-paying jobs. Research by UNESCO and the World Bank found that having just one year of primary school increases possible wages later in life by five to 15 percent for boys, and even more for girls.
Members of The Bolivian Union of Child and Adolescent Workers were able to take part in the conversations with the government, including the President and members of congress, regarding the minimum working age.
Junior Pacosillo, a 16-year old who has been working for the past seven years, expressed that he wished the government would spend its money on anti-poverty programs that would create better opportunities for adults to work and support their children, rather than focusing on lowering the working age.
A study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that by doing away with child labor, and diverting spending toward better schools and social services, the economic benefits are seven times greater than the cost.
Judgment of the morality of child labor aside, if the goal of this bill is to reduce poverty, allowing younger child labor will not succeed in doing so. In 2008, there were found to be 850,000 children ages 5-17 working in Bolivia, according to a study conducted by the ILO and the Bolivian Government. If this law passes, the numbers will only continue to grow, along with amount of human capital wasted from children not reaching their full potential.
Advocacy director for the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, Jo Becker, says, “Poor families may understandably be tempted to send their children to work in order to put food on the table. If the law says it’s okay, they will be even more likely to do so.”
Instead of signing this bill into a law, Evo Morales should consider other ways the government can invest in children to break the cycle of poverty.
– Kim Tierney
Sources: Time, Human Rights Watch 1, Human Rights Watch 2, Jurist, The Guardian, International Labour Organization, Deccan Herald, Eliminating Child Labor, Fox Latino
Photo: Indian Country