OXFORD, Ohio — The International Labor Organization (ILO) has been promoting its Red Card to Child Labor campaign, using the publicity surrounding the recently ended World Cup in Brazil to shine a spotlight on Latin America’s 12 million working children. The ILO focuses on all kinds of work, from the dangerous to the mundane, seeking to eradicate child labor altogether.
Chile made its intentions clear on the World Day Against Child Labor on June 12 by becoming the first country in Latin America to stamp out all forms of child labor. Along with the ILO, Chile’s Minister of Work and Social Welfare Javiera Blanco has declared that children must be able to enjoy education and recreation while they are young and should not have to take on work-related responsibilities until later in life.
In contrast, Bolivia is proposing a reduction in the legal working age from 14 to 12. Bolivian President Evo Morales has voiced that he is against any limitation on child labor. Child worker unions in Bolivia such as Bolivia’s Union of Child and Adolescent Workers (UNATSBO) are very vocal in asserting their right to work.
Similar child unions exist throughout Latin America. CONNATs of Paraguay, the Coordinación Nacional de Niñas and Niños y Adolescentes Trabajadores (National Coordination of Working Boys, Girls and Adolescents) are working to convey the value that work can have in the lives of Paraguayan children to oppositional forces like the ILO and the national government, who seek to place restrictions on child labor.
German political scientist Manfred Liebel, author of the book Kinderrecht aus Kindersicht (Children’s Rights from a Child’s Perspective), is a consultant for UNATSBO. He holds that work does not necessarily stand in the way of education as the ILO and proponents of child labor eradication state.
Liebel sees work as a formative experience in a child’s life and points out that many children play an important part in their families’ home economies by bringing in extra income that can actually help with education costs. Additionally, as is the case in Bolivia, many indigenous communities have long traditions of child labor that have shaped their expectations of childhood to this day.
Liebel states, “It’s important politically to work towards changing the lives of families. They should be able to decide freely and independently whether their children contribute to the family income or not… [The ILO] shouldn’t target every kind of child labor, just cases involving any kind of coercion or violence against children.”
Children are the most vulnerable members of society. Because they are the future, they certainly deserve protection against exploitation and violence. However, the debate surrounding child labor must be balanced and understanding of the different reasons why children work must be heard.
– Kayla Strickland