The Bolivian government should reject proposals to lower its minimum age of employment below 14, Human Rights Watch said today. President Evo Morales recently expressed support for proposals from a union of child and adolescent workers to abolish a minimum age for “independent work” and to establish a minimum age of 12 for all other jobs.
The legislature is debating a new children’s rights bill, which affirms the current minimum age of 14. Following demonstrations by Unatsbo, the Bolivian Union of Child and Adolescent Workers, the former president of the Senate, Gabriela Montano, agreed to consider changes to the bill.
“Child labor perpetuates the cycle of poverty,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Lowering the minimum age of employment is counterproductive and out of step with the rest of the world.”
On January 24, Human Rights Watch joined the Global March against Child Labor and Anti-Slavery International in sending a letter to President Morales opposing any move to lower the minimum age of employment. The letter stated that such a move would contravene Bolivia’s international legal commitments and be counterproductive to the Bolivian economy.
The International Labour Organization reported in October 2013 that global child labor rates have dropped by 30 percent since 2000. In Latin America, the number of child laborers dropped from 14.1 million to 12.5 million between 2008 and 2012. Bolivia has a reported 850,000 child laborers.
Reductions in child labor are attributed to several factors, Human Rights Watch said, including increasing access to education, strengthening social protection programs such as Bolivia’s Juancito Pinto cash transfer program, and strong national legislation and monitoring.
Bolivia is among the 166 countries that have ratified the International Labor Convention No. 138 on the minimum age of employment. The convention stipulates a minimum age of 15. Countries whose economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed may under certain conditions initially specify a minimum age of 14.
“Poor families often send their children to work out of desperation, but these children miss out on schooling and are more likely to end up in a lifetime of low-wage work,” Becker said. “The Bolivian government should invest in policies and programs to end child labor, not support it.”