2014 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Latin America & the Carribean

2014 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

Latin America & Caribbean
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In Latin America and the Caribbean, 12.5 million children ages 5-17 are engaged in child labor, representing 8 percent of all children in the region.(8) In 2014, many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean continued to make concerted efforts to address child labor. Seventeen out of the 28 countries renewed their commitments to eliminate child labor by 2020 by signing a regional declaration that aims to strengthen monitoring and coordination mechanisms, social programs, and South-South exchanges. There were six countries in the region—Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Paraguay, and Peru—that received a rating of Significant Advancement for their efforts in 2014. These countries continued to build sound frameworks to address child labor by implementing cross-cutting improvements in legislation, coordination and enforcement efforts, policies, and programs. They responded in comprehensive ways to the need to rescue children from dangerous activities, while simultaneously building the skills of their future workforce. In this vein, many countries in 2014 strengthened programs that tackle child labor through education. Efforts across the region also included improved legal protections against the worst forms of child labor, as well as new institutional approaches to enforcing child labor laws.

In 2014, many governments expanded educational and social programs that aim to keep children in school and out of child labor. More than half of the Latin American and Caribbean countries covered in this report (16 out of 28) implemented cash transfer programs whose assistance was conditioned on families sending their children to school. Notable efforts include Brazil’s Bolsa Familia program, whose operating budget increased 44 percent over the last 3 years. Eleven countries also implemented programs that extended the school day or provided alternative schedules for children at risk of child labor, including programs in Argentina and Nicaragua that tailored activities to the needs of families who work in agriculture.

In Central America, countries made the link between formal education and vocational training as a way to protect working youth from dangerous activities, including commercial sexual exploitation and drug trafficking. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras signed the Alliance for Prosperity, a development plan that commits these governments to expand access to secondary education and provide job-training opportunities for youth, in part, to reduce migration, during which children become particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor. Governments also sought to increase educational opportunities for indigenous and Afro-descendant children; Bolivia, Chile, Honduras, and Paraguay all implemented educational or social programs that benefitted these populations.

Many governments expanded legal protections related to the worst forms of child labor. In 2014, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Peru passed legislation that increased penalties for human trafficking, expanded coverage of trafficking crimes, or regulated assistance to victims, including for children. In addition, the Dominican Republic amended its Penal Code to increase penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Argentina, Colombia, and Costa Rica ratified ILO C. 189 Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which commits these governments to ensure that domestic workers have the same protections as other workers, as well as to prevent worker abuse and child labor. The Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Saint Lucia ratified the UN CRC Optional Protocol on Armed Conflict, and Haiti also ratified the UN CRC Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.

In 2014, many governments strengthened their capacity to enforce child labor laws. Ten governments increased their total number of labor inspectors, with Bolivia and Uruguay increasing their inspectors by 22 percent and 15 percent, respectively; a notable exception was El Salvador, where the number of inspectors decreased by 43 percent. Other governments created new institutional approaches to enforce labor laws. Brazil created mobile, child laborspecific inspection units to better coordinate efforts between regional Ministry of Labor officials and local inspectors, and Colombia created the Fundamental Labor Rights unit, a specialized inspection unit for child labor. In addition, Peru opened eight regional offices to better conduct inspections nationwide.

Despite substantive efforts made in the region, longstanding impediments hindered further progress toward the elimination of child labor, and children in Latin American and the Caribbean continue to engage in child labor, particularly in dangerous forms of agriculture and in domestic service. Many indigenous, Afro-descendant, and migrant children remain particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor.(8, 23) Significant gaps remain, including comprehensive information on labor and criminal law enforcement efforts, and many countries have not enacted prohibitions on hazardous occupations and activities for children under age 18.

While some governments increased the amount of funding to agencies that enforce laws against child labor, 13 of the Latin American and Caribbean countries included in this report did not devote sufficient resources to such agencies. A larger problem in the region was a lack of public reporting on enforcement efforts. A significant majority of the countries (22 out of 28) did not make publicly available information on one or more labor or criminal enforcement metrics, including the number of inspectors or inspections conducted, the sectors or geographic localities in which inspections were carried out, or the sanctions or penalties imposed as a result of enforcement efforts.

Shortcomings in legal protections also remain. Research showed that 8 of the 28 countries have not prohibited occupations and activities considered hazardous for children: Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela. Four Caribbean countries also have not established a law that sets the minimum age for hazardous work at 18: Dominica, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Although governments expanded educational and social programs that aim to keep children in school and out of child labor, access to education continues to be a challenge. In Haiti, despite legal provisions for free schooling, access to education is sometimes hindered by the application of fees and a lack of schools, although the National Free Education Program is working to address these issues. In other countries, such as Nicaragua, the costs associated with schooling (i.e., transport or school supplies) hinder children’s ability to attend school. In Honduras, access to education in urban areas is hindered by widespread violence and gangs’ attempts to recruit children while at school. The latter is also true in El Salvador, where reports indicate that gangs sometimes threaten children at school, although programs such as the School Prevention and Security Plan seek to address this. In Colombia, children’s access to education is hindered by internal armed conflict and displacement, as well as by the forced non-state recruitment of children into armed groups.

Meaningful efforts:

  • Expanded social and educational programs to improve school attendance for at-risk children.
  • Strengthened legal protections against trafficking in persons.
  • Implemented new institutional approaches for enforcing child labor laws.

Challenges and existing gaps:

  • Lack of publicly available statistics on labor and criminal law enforcement efforts.
  • Lapses in mechanisms and efforts to coordinate government efforts against child labor.
  • Continued vulnerability of indigenous, Afro-descendant, and migrant children to the worst forms of child labor.