LA PAZ, Bolivia – The Vice President of Bolivia, Alvaro Garcia, signed a new law in July lowering the legal minimum working age from 14 to 10 years old. The controversial law has stirred debate among the international development and economic communities about the impact it will have on child labor in Bolivia and development in general.
The ILO Minimum Age Convention sets the international minimum working age at 15 for countries with sufficient economies and 14 for poorer developing economies. This child labor law violates the ILO Convention which seeks to regulate child labor worldwide.
According to the new law, children between the ages of 10 and 12 who wish to work must do so while under the constant supervision of a parent and their work must not interfere with school attendance. Children between the ages of 12 and 14 are allowed to work under the contract of a third-party boss, but their work must also not interfere with school attendance and they may only work up to six hours a day instead of eight.
The law’s proponents argue that lowering the minimum working age is necessary in order to reconcile with the reality of child labor in Bolivia. There are approximately 850,000 children in the Bolivian workforce, both in rural and urban areas between the ages of five and 17.
Debates have been taking place within Bolivia since the beginning of 2014 about lowering the minimum working age with one of the most vocal proponents being the Union of Child and Adolescent Workers (UNATSBO). The Union is led by children such as 14-year- old Rodrigo Medrano Calle who works with leaders in the Bolivian government to represent the rights of all persons under the age of 18 working in Bolivia and promote education as a children’s right. Similar child labor unions exist in other Latin American countries such as Paraguay, Peru, Guatemala and Colombia.
Many children in Bolivia are faced with the harsh reality that their parents do not make enough money to make ends meet. Children must then work in order to avoid starvation and afford school supplies. Therefore, many in Bolivia including working children support the law because it grants them protection and rights under the law and reduces the potential to be exploited by hazardous working situations or forced labor.
Those in the Bolivian government that supported the bill, such as Senator Adolfo Mendoza, argue that it provides children with safeguards they need while working and that it acknowledges the unfortunate reality of child laborers in Bolivia in an attempt to make that reality as safe as possible.
On the other hand, some children argue that instead of legalizing child labor as a solution, parents in Bolivia should be paid a minimum wage that amounts to more than $150 a month. They argue that if their parents were able to make enough money to support their families, children would not need to go to work to contribute to the family livelihood at such a young age.
– Erin Sullivan