Estimates of the number of children working in Portugal range from 200,000, as cited by nongovernmental organizations,1 to 30,000, as reported by the Portuguese government.2 The footwear, garment, ceramics, and granite paving stone industries have been documented to use child labor. Each of these industries, in varying quantities, exports to the United States.3
II. Child Labor in Export Industries
A 1991 report by Anti-Slavery International (ASI) documents child labor in the shoe and garment industries and, to a lesser extent, in the ceramics and stone-breaking industries, all of which are export-oriented and concentrated in the northern districts of Oporto and Braga.4 A 1993 government briefing paper reported that of businesses found to employ children under the legal minimum age of 16, roughly 62 percent were either in the clothing, textiles and knitwear industry or in shoe manufacturing.5 Each of these industries export to both the United States and Europe.
Rising public concern and increasing labor inspections have driven most of the child labor out of the legally organized factories and into "clandestine", or illegal, garage workshops and home production where abuses of the law are much harder to detect.6
In 1993, Portugal exported $61.5 million in garments to the United States.9 Finishing work, such as cutting button holes and sewing, is often subcontracted out from the larger factories. The textile union confirmed that in garment production, children under the age of 14 work mostly in clandestine shops and in their families' homes. A union representative said that when children are found in a factory they are paid 10 percent of an adult's wages; the piece-rate for work at home was described as "miserably low."10 Anti-Slavery International profiled two child garment workers:
As with garments, child labor appears mostly in small shops and in home production. The system of rural delivery of cut pieces for finishing into casual shoes for eventual sale by foreign retailers is well documented, in one case showing children as young as 10 and 11 years stitching shoes.12 Children hand sew pre-punched, machine-cut pieces of leather together, cut leather, and glue shoe pieces together. Anti-Slavery International profiled one young shoe worker:
The United States imported $65 million in footwear from Portugal in 1992.14 Child labor in the shoe industry merits further investigation.
Children are used in the production of brick-red table and oven pottery, fine china, and pottery ornaments in the ceramics industry located in the municipality of Barcelos. Children carry and work the clay in addition to painting designs on the pottery.15 Several reports found that children in the ceramics industry often work only during school vacations or attend school for half the day and then work the other half in small workshops. Most ceramics production is exported to Europe, although over $37 million in ceramic products was exported to the United States in 1993.16
The granite industry in the north of Portugal "exploits cheap sub-contracted labour, and the labour of children."17 Young boys were found to work with family members breaking cobblestones, coping-stones and paving stones to be used in road construction. They hammer at the stone with chisels and mallets, unprotected from the dust and granite chips. Typically, a man will rent a small shack for stone-breaking and his family will come to work with him, including his children. Exports are thought to go primarily to France and Spain, though there are reports of granite stones being exported to the United States for use in pavements.18
III. Laws of Portugal
A. National Child Labor Laws
The government raised the minimum age for employment to 15 years under Decree-law 396/91 of the "Judicial Labour Law", and it plans to raise it again to 16 years in 1997 when the period of nine years of compulsory schooling takes effect.19 Currently, light work, which is not yet defined under Portuguese law, is permitted by children 14 and older. Hazardous work, also not yet defined, is prohibited for anyone under 18.20
Revised in October 1991, Portugal's labor laws include more severe fines and sanctions for companies which violate them. To illustrate its work to combat child labor, the government also points to its programs to increase the effectiveness of its labor inspectors.
However, government efforts are still hampered by a lack of inspectors and the dispersed locations of clandestine and home production--private property which requires a search warrant to enter. The U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 states that, "(t)he Government has yet to allocate resources sufficient to cope with the problem [of enforcing child labor laws in clandestine companies and home-based production]...which has thus remained essentially unresolved."21
Unions, meanwhile, complain that labor inspectors have been known to "tip-off" factories that an inspection is due and that the inspectors are incapable of addressing what they assert is a growing phenomenon of child labor in home-based subcontracting. A government briefing paper on child labor appears to justify union concern: "Scenes of 'tilemaking' (stone breaking for pavements) and of domiciliary work (sewing...shoes) have been amply publicized. These situations are basically not considered as being 'subordinated work' as it mainly occurs within the family, thus evading the [labor inspector's] control."22
The Deputy Chief of the government's labor inspectors categorically asserted that the problem of child labor is not increasing. He also asserted that the changes in the ages both of school attendance and the minimum for work would result in significantly lower child labor in the future.23 While the unions agree that child labor has been falling recently, they attribute the decline to the closing of factories and the rise of unemployment.24
B. Education Laws
Education is compulsory for children up to age 14.25 Article 74 of the Constitution states that, "(e)veryone shall have the right to equal opportunities for access to and success in schooling....In the implementation of its educational policy, it shall be the duty of the State to ensure compulsory and free universal basic education.26 The Government of Portugal is currently making education a priority and plans to increase compulsory schooling to nine years. The portion of the government's budget going to education has risen significantly.27
The government claims to have reduced by 35 percent the number of children who dropped out of school between 1991 and 1993.28
C. International Conventions
Portugal has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Portugal is not a party to ILO Convention No. 138 Concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment or ILO Convention No. 59 on Minimum Age for Admission to Employment in Industry.29 The government has stated that it intends to ratify Convention No. 138.30
IV. Programs and Efforts To Address Child Labor
The Government of Portugal is particularly sensitive to the international publicity the country has received as a result of the 1991 report by Anti-Slavery International and several international television news programs which have focused on children sewing shoes for export to Europe.31
Both the government and the major national unions have launched several programs to increase public awareness. Most of the programs are aimed particularly at parents and teachers. While some people complained of a lack of substance in the programs, a Portuguese member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stressed the importance of changing the old attitudes among parents, teachers and the Church of acceptance of child labor--and she noted a positive trend in this direction.32
A promising program being developed in a small town in the industrialized North involves a coalition of private social welfare groups, church based social action organizations, local and national unions, local municipal and school officials, and regional and national governmental authorities. The plan is to use all available resources to address the problems of children working and children at risk of dropping out of school, one child at a time. The program may be replicated in other towns in the region.33
1 Suzanne Williams, Child Workers in Portugal, No. 12 in the Child Labor Series (London: Anti-Slavery International, 1992) 12 [hereinafter Child Workers in Portugal].
2 "Child Labor Falling," Publico, May 1994 [hereinafter Publico article].
3 United States Merchandise Trade: Exports and General Imports by Country (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, 1993) A-348 - A-351 [hereinafter U.S. Merchandise Trade].
4 Child Workers in Portugal at 26.
5 "Briefing Paper on Child Labor," prepared by a working group on child labor established by the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1993) 2 [hereinafter Briefing Paper].
6 Interview with Americo Monteiro, former coordinator of the Confederation for Action on Child Labor (CNASTI), by Department of Labor official (May 19, 1994) [hereinafter Interview with Monteiro].
7 "...'mythical and fantasied' numbers of 200,000, that are persistently referred to by the 'media' of other countries." Briefing Paper at 15.
8 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 (U.S. Department of State, February, 1994) 873 [hereinafter Country Reports].
9 U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, Office of Textile and Apparel, Major Shippers: Textiles and Apparel (June 11,1994).
10 Interview with Jose Fernando Teixeira Silva, Member of the National Board, Textile Federation, by U.S. Department of Labor official (May 18,1994) [hereinafter Interview with Silva]; European television documentaries [on file].
11 Child Workers in Portugal at 34.
12 See Child Workers in Portugal; European television documentaries (ITV, Storyline, February 4, 1993) [on file].
13 Child Workers in Portugal at 31.
14 U.S. Merchandise Trade.
15 Child Workers in Portugal at 32.
16 U.S. Merchandise Trade.
17 Child Workers in Portugal at 36.
18 Child Workers in Portugal at 36-38; Interview with Monteiro; Interview with Alfredo Cardoso, Cultural Assistant, Town of Braga, and former member of the Confederation for Action on Child Labor (CNASTI), by U.S. Department of Labor official (May 19, 1994) [hereinafter Interview with Cardoso]; Telephone interview with Suzanne Williams, author of Child Workers in Portugal by Department of Labor official (May 13, 1994).
19 Country Reports at 1009.
20 Unofficial translation of report from Portuguese Ministry of Labor and Social Security.
21 Country Reports at 1009.
22 Briefing Paper at 3.
23 Interview with Dr. Jose Manuel Garcia Cristo, Deputy Inspector, General Labor Inspectorate, by Department of Labor official (May 17, 1994).
24 Publico article.
25 Conditions of Work Digest, vol. 10, no. 1 (Geneva: International Labor Organization, 1991) 44.
26 Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, 2nd Revision, 1989 (Lisbon: Directorate General for Mass Communication, 1991) 51.
27 "Portugal May Have Crucial Lessons To Learn," Financial Times (England), March 18, 1992.
28 Publico article.
29 List of Ratifications by Convention and by Country (as at 31 December 1992) (Geneva: International Labour Office, 1993).
30 Interview with Dra. Marta Santos Pais, Member, United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, by Department of Labor official (May 20, 1994) [hereinafter Interview with Pais].
31 Child Workers in Portugal; European television documentaries [on file].
32 Interview with Pais.
33 Interview with Monteiro; Interview with Cardoso.