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Latin America & the Carribean

2013 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

2013 Regional Outlook

Meaningful efforts:

  • Expanded social protection programs benefitting child laborers.
  • Improved legal frameworks for child domestic workers.
  • Increased funding for stronger labor law enforcement.

Challenges and existing gaps:

  • Limited or weak labor inspection systems.
  • Lack of programs targeting hard to reach populations, such as child domestic workers, and insufficent programs to reach children involved in agriculture and informal sector work.
  • Insufficent attention to combatting the use of children in illicit activities, including gangs.

Region Summary

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 12.5 million children ages 5-17 are engaged in child labor, or 8 percent of all children in the region.(23) Seven Latin American countries received a rating of Significant Advancement in 2013: Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Peru—a group that includes several countries with high rates of economic growth. But not all have benefitted equally from economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean. Indigenous, and, in some countries, afro-descendant populations, have had disproportionately high rates of poverty and child labor. (27, 28) Child migrants were also particularly at risk of child labor and were overrepresented in exploitative sectors, such as domestic service.(29) In 2013, many governments made the link between social exclusion and child labor, and pioneered or expanded their social protection efforts to address these issues. However, children in the region continue to engage in work, particularly in dangerous forms of agriculture and domestic service. There are gaps in labor inspection systems and programs for hard to reach populations, such as child domestic workers and children involved in agriculture and informal work. More efforts are needed to reduce barriers to school attendance and combat the use of children in illicit activities.

In 2013, governments expanded social protection programs that directly benefit child laborers and atrisk children. Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador enrolled more beneficiaries into conditional cash transfer programs that specifically aim to keep children enrolled in school and prevent them from engaging in hazardous occupations. Honduras’s conditional cash transfer program, Voucher 10,000, which specifically targets indigenous and afro-descendant populations, added the reduction of child labor to its objectives. Brazil expanded three of its flagship anti-poverty programs—Bolsa Familia, Brasil Carinhoso, and Brasil sem Miséria--and restructured its National Program to Eliminate Child Labor to prioritize assistance to the municipalities with the highest rates of child labor. The Paraguayan Government expanded the health and education program, Programa Abrazo, into regions with a high prevalence of child trafficking for the purposes of labor or sexual exploitation. Haiti made strides in promoting school attendance, enrolling over one million children by providing additional cash transfers and education assistance to families. Suriname continued to expand education programs for vulnerable populations, including by opening after-school programs for low-income children in more schools.

In addition, there were several promising legal developments in 2013 that demonstrate a growing commitment among governments to address child labor among the most vulnerable. Paraguay, Guyana, and Colombia ratified ILO Convention 189 Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which commits these Governments to ensure domestic workers have the same protections as other workers and to prevent worker abuse and child labor in domestic service.(30) Argentina enacted the Special Code on Contracting Domestic Workers, which regulates the employment of domestic workers in private homes and includes many provisions to protect children, including prohibiting work in domestic service for children who have not finished their secondary education. During the year, Brazil approved similar legislation that extends labor protections to domestic workers. Other notable gains were made in the Caribbean, with both Dominica and Saint Lucia ratifying the Palermo Protocol. Saint Lucia additionally ratified the UN CRC Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography and the UN CRC Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

In 2013, many governments allocated a greater share of resources to strengthen labor law enforcement. Ecuador increased its budget for labor inspections by 42 percent, Brazil by 13 percent, Guatemala by 16 percent, and El Salvador by 13 percent, though Panama’s child labor inspections budget decreased by 35 percent. Labor inspectorates in Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Guatemala conducted more inspections than in the previous year, with both Chile and Guatemala increasing their inspections nearly threefold, although the quality of these inspections may vary. Another achievement was the provision of specialized training for law enforcement agencies to better address the worst forms of child labor. Sixteen of the 29 Latin American and Caribbean countries included in this report provided specialized training on child labor to labor inspectors in 2013, and 15 of 29 countries provided specialized training on child trafficking in 2013.

While these gains indicate progress toward the elimination of child labor, there are still systemic impediments to improvement. The increased resources that governments allocated toward labor law enforcement in 2013 were in response to an urgent need: over half of the Latin American and Caribbean countries covered in this report (15 out of 29 countries) had labor law enforcement agencies that devote insufficient resources or staff to child labor, and many other countries did not release enough publicly available information to determine the level of resources available to these agencies. In addition, nine countries have not enacted lists of hazardous occupations prohibited for children, including Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela. In some countries, children turn to work because they face great barriers to receiving an education. For example, Brazilian, Colombian, and Haitian children cannot access primary or secondary schools in certain areas; Salvadoran children face gang violence in schools; Belizean children face school fees; and children in the Dominican Republic without required student identity documents have limited educational opportunities, which increases their vulnerability to labor exploitation.

Although governments expanded social protection programs that directly benefit child laborers and at-risk children, there are gaps in monitoring and evaluating such programs. Research showed that 23 of 29 countries had not evaluated the impact of social protection programs and policies on child labor and school attendance. Another frequent challenge was coordination among agencies at national and subnational levels in implementing these programs or policies, with 13 countries found to have insufficient coordination mechanisms in place. Social programs may also be weak in targeting resources to the most vulnerable children. Thirteen countries in the region were found to have insufficient programs addressing the region’s most common occupation for children: hazardous work in agriculture—work often undertaken by indigenous and afro-descendant children, particularly boys. Similarly, seven countries were found to have insufficient programs to address child domestic service, in which girls predominate. There were also insufficient efforts to address the use of children in illicit activities, including using children in gangs, particularly in border areas where children may be highly vulnerable to trafficking and labor exploitation by criminal elements.

Further Resources