While most countries in the world are trying to eliminate child labor, Bolivia has legalized it. In July 2014, Bolivia passed a controversial law that allows children as young as 10 to work under certain circumstances. The United Nations recommends that the minimum age for children to do any type of work should be set at age 14. Bolivia’s law clearly strays from this recommendation.
Supporters defend the law’s passage by arguing that children in one of the poorest countries in Latin America will work regardless of whether it is legal. They believe that the law will provide these children with fair wages and legal protection. Opponents argue that this is not the best way to protect children in Bolivia.
The Child Labor Situation in Bolivia
Child labor is common in Bolivia. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor found that over 20 percent of Bolivian children between the ages of 7 and 14 work. In 2008, a report found that about 800,000 children in Bolivia work and 491,000 of those children are under the age of 14. This is the equivalent of one out of four Bolivian children.
Not only is there a high number of children working, they are often working in difficult and dangerous lines of work. In rural areas, children harvest crops and herd animals like sheep and llamas. In urban areas, children can be found shining shoes, recycling garbage, and selling everything from pirated CDs to flowers.
It’s also not uncommon to find children doing backbreaking work like brick-making and mining. Under Bolivian law, it is illegal for a child of any age to work in the mines. However, this doesn’t stop children as young as six from working as miners. The wages are often just too great for many children and their families to resist.
Bolivian Child Labor Law
Under Bolivian law, children generally must be at least 14 years old to work. However, the 2014 law makes two exceptions. (1) Children between the ages of 10 and 12 can work if they are self-employed, are still able to go to school, and have parental permission. (2) Starting at age 12, children can do light work for an employer for 6 hours a day, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their education. All child workers must be authorized to work and registered with a child protection officer.
This law allows children between the ages of 10 and 14 to work without being questioned by the police, and it is meant to provide child workers with legal protections. The law seeks to ensure that children are paid minimum wage and protected from abuse from employers.
Reactions from Supporters and Opponents
Supporters of the Bolivian law argue that child labor is deeply-rooted in the country’s culture, and children will work, regardless of whether the law permits it. They say that the law is a way of protecting children who work to help support their families.
Unionized children, who are members of UNATSBO (Union of Child and Adolescent Workers), agree that their wages are needed to support their families and they say that they are glad to have the chance to receive legal protection as workers.
Opponents of the law argue that Bolivia is violating the International Labour Organization’s Minimum Age Convention. The Convention states that developing countries should set the minimum age to work at 14 years old. Although Bolivia is a member of the Convention, it has moved away from this standard and has taken a step back in eliminating child labor in the country.
Opponents also argue that the law harms children. They say that child laborers are forced to grow up too fast and are often deprived of the education that will help lift them out of poverty. Opponents argue that a better way to eliminate poverty in Bolivia is to increase the minimum wage for adults. Then parents won’t have to rely on their children’s wages to support the household. Many Bolivian children agree with this view.
Enforcing child labor laws and protecting child workers present additional problems in Bolivia. The Offices of the Child Advocate, which are meant to protect child workers, do not exist or are unfunded in many parts of the country. In 2014, there were less than 100 inspectors in the entire country. This lack of enforcement leaves children vulnerable to unsafe working conditions and abuse.
It’s clearly a complex situation in Bolivia. The reality is that many Bolivian families struggle to support themselves and they need the extra money that their children bring in. However, lowering the legal age for children to work presents a new set of problems for children in the country.
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