2015 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Latin America & the Carribean

2015 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

Latin America & Caribbean
Map of Latin America and Caribbean and infographic showing statistics on child labor and advancement levels
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Meaningful Efforts:

  • Increased efforts to combat child labor in domestic work.
  • Strengthened national policy frameworks to address child labor, including its worst forms.
  • Enhanced social programs to address child labor that combine anti-poverty and educational measures.

Challenges and Existing Gaps:

  • Continued recruitment and use of children by gangs to commit illicit activities.
  • Weak legal frameworks in countries that do not adequately prohibit hazardous work.
  • Insufficient human and financial resources allocated to the enforcement of child labor laws.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 12.5 million children ages 5 to 17 are engaged in child labor, or 8 percent of all children in the region.[1] Children are primarily engaged in child labor in agriculture and street work. Children are also engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including being used by gangs to commit illicit activities. Many migrant children, as well as children of indigenous and African descent, remain particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor.[2] In 2015, 8 of the 26 countries covered in the region received an assessment of Significant Advancement: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru. The region continued to strengthen national policy frameworks to address child labor, including its worst forms; implement enhanced social programs to address child labor that combine anti-poverty and educational measures; and increase efforts to combat child labor in domestic work. Despite these efforts, countries did not have laws adequately prohibiting hazardous work and did not allocate sufficient human and financial resources to the enforcement of child labor laws. Two countries made meaningful efforts in relevant areas, but failed to remedy a regressive or significantly detrimental law, policy, or practice that was established in previous years that delayed advancement in eliminating the worst forms of child labor: Bolivia, where some children as young as age 10 may be self-employed, and the Dominican Republic, where some children without birth registration are denied access to education.

Latin American and Caribbean governments continued to develop comprehensive legal protections to prevent and eliminate child labor, including through sector-specific efforts. The region leads in legal efforts to combat child labor in domestic work, which is prevalent in most of the countries covered. In 2015, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Panama ratified ILO C. 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which commits these governments to ensure that domestic workers have the same protections as other workers, and to take steps to prevent child labor.[3] Panama adopted a policy to combat child labor in domestic work, and Paraguay, which ratified the convention previously, raised the minimum age for domestic work from 16 to 18. In addition, 12 countries in the region were among the 22 worldwide that have ratified ILO C. 189.

In 2015, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean mainstreamed child labor issues in regional declarations on decent work and labor rights. At the XIX Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labor, 21 countries covered in the region resolved to promote decent work with social inclusion, in part through policies that aim to eliminate child labor and promote education and vocational training for youth. The five member states of MERCOSUR (the Common Market of the South)—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela—also signed a social and labor declaration that aims to protect core labor standards in their decent work agenda, including child labor and forced labor standards. Across the region, 23 countries covered in the report implemented national policies to address child labor, including its worst forms. Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica, and Panama adopted new national policies or action plans that outline efforts to prevent and eliminate child labor, and to regulate adolescent work.

Governments also strengthened their policy frameworks to combat human trafficking, including Bolivia, Chile, and Peru in the Andean region, and Haiti, Jamaica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean. Nicaragua conducted their first human trafficking prosecutions under legislation that was passed during the previous reporting period.

Throughout the region, many countries expanded on holistic approaches to the prevention and elimination of child labor by combining anti-poverty measures with educational efforts. In 2015, more than half of the Latin American and Caribbean countries covered in this report implemented cash transfer programs whose assistance was conditioned on families sending their children to school, including Brazil, which expanded its Bolsa Família program for the fourth consecutive year. In addition, many governments made schooling more accessible to impoverished children who might otherwise engage in child labor by providing meals and supplies. Notable examples include the expansion of the school meals program in Honduras and the national school supplies program in Nicaragua. Colombia also allocated more resources to education than to any other area of the national budget, including defense, for the first time.

Despite substantive efforts made in the region to address child labor issues, important challenges remain. In Central America, the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras continue to combat gang violence, which includes the coercive recruitment of children by gangs into the worst forms of child labor. In these situations, boys are used to commit extortion, drug trafficking, and homicides, and girls are used in commercial sexual exploitation. In addition, gangs in these countries, as well as in Colombia, continue to recruit children while at school, complicating access to education, which in some cases is already hindered by widespread violence.

While legal frameworks across the region are generally comprehensive, there are gaps in legal protections. Four countries covered in the report lack a minimum age for work that conforms to international standards, including Belize, Bolivia, Dominica, and Guatemala. Belize, for example, sets the minimum age for work at 12, and Bolivia allows children as young as age 10 to be self-employed under certain circumstances. Six countries—Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines—lack adequate prohibitions on the use of children in illicit activities. Research also found that nine countries lack prohibitions on hazardous work that conform to ILO C. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor: Argentina, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Panama, Peru, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Uruguay.

Many countries in the region also lack the capacity to adequately enforce child labor laws. Although 12 countries covered increased their number of labor inspectors in 2015, 18 countries did not meet the ILO’s recommendation for an adequate number of inspectors.[4] A lack of labor inspectors impedes government efforts to identify and sanction child labor violations, including in remote areas. This problem often stems from a lack of dedicated financial resources. For the majority of the countries in the region, reports from government officials, labor unions, and other civil society organizations indicated that labor inspectorates lack the resources they need to carry out their mandates.


[1] ILO. Marking Progress Against Child Labour: Global Estimates and Trends 2000 - 2012. Geneva; 2013. http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_norm/---ipec/documents/publication/wcms_221513.pdf.

[2] ILO. Indigenous and Tribal Peoples - Child labour, [cited April 29, 2015]; http://www.ilo.org/indigenous/Themes/Childlabour/lang--en/index.htm.

ILO-IPEC and Instituto Nacional de Estadística de Uruguay. Magnitud y Características del Trabajo Infantil en Uruguay: Informe Nacional 2010. Geneva; 2011. http://www.ine.gub.uy/biblioteca/infantil/ENTI/Magnitud%20y%20Caracter%C3%ADsticas%20del%20Trabajo%20Infantil%20en%20Uruguay.pdf.

[3] Human Rights Watch. The ILO Domestic Workers Convention: New Standards to Fight Discrimination, Exploitation, and Abuse; 2014. http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/related_material/2013ilo_dw_convention_brochure.pdf.

[4] For three countries in the Latin America and the Caribbean, the number of labor inspectors was unknown.

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