2017 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

Latin America & Caribbean
Regional Outlook - Latin America and the Caribbean Graphic
Child Labor Information by Country
Child Labor Information by Region
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Meaningful Efforts:

  • Leveraged unconventional partnerships to coordinate efforts to identify and address child labor.
  • Introduced new technology to improve child labor law enforcement and monitor social services for children.
  • Conducted and published research on child labor.

Challenges and Existing Gaps:

  • Gaps exist within the authority or operations of enforcement agencies to monitor the informal sector.
  • Prosecution levels related to the commercial sexual exploitation of children are low.
  • Natural disasters, violent crime, and migration prevent children from accessing education.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 10.5 million children ages 5 to 17, or 7 percent of all children in the region, are engaged in child labor. Children in this region engage in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking. Children also perform dangerous tasks in agriculture, mining, and domestic work. In addition, many migrant children, and children of indigenous and African descent, remain particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor. 

During the year, governments throughout the region leveraged partnerships to coordinate efforts to identify and address child labor. In both Panama and Peru, national ministries forged new relationships with municipal governments to prevent and respond to child labor, such as providing training and outreach on child labor and human trafficking following Peru’s devastating floods in 2017. The governments of Colombia and Guatemala jointly developed a virtual training course and established an agenda to work together to end child labor. Governments in the region also introduced new technologies to modernize efforts to monitor social services for children and strengthen labor law enforcement. Honduras released a mobile application for reporting child labor violations, and Paraguay piloted a data system to link local and national government bodies to improve protection of adolescent workers and referral of families to social programs. The region continued to collect and publish child labor research; Brazil, Costa Rica, and Guatemala published national child labor data, while Guyana and St. Lucia published rapid assessments on child labor.

The region faces many challenges, including high rates of inequality and informal work, and inadequate funding for law enforcement and social programming. Brazil’s Labor Inspectorate experienced significant resource issues that limited inspections to major cities due to a lack of funds for vehicles, gasoline, air travel, and daily lodging and meals for labor inspectors. The same held true in Haiti, where the lack of sufficient transportation, fuel, and appropriately equipped ministry facilities hampered the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ efforts to enforce child labor laws. The capacity of the Dominican Republic’s National Police and Attorney General’s Special Prosecutor to identify, investigate, and prosecute criminal cases related to the worst forms of child labor was limited by a lack of human and financial resources. In addition, many countries in the region have gaps within the authority or operations of law enforcement agencies, preventing them from addressing child labor in the informal sector in which child labor is most likely to occur. In Jamaica, child labor is pervasive in the informal sector, but existing law authorizes labor inspectors to conduct inspections in only certain industries or sectors, resulting in inspectors conducting inspections primarily in the formal sector.

Although social programs exist throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to protect children, many countries in the region lack programming or funding to reach children in key sectors and among vulnerable populations, including migrant children, children of indigenous or African descent, and children in rural areas. In Ecuador, the lack of schools in some areas specifically affects indigenous and refugee children, who must travel long distances to attend school; almost half of all indigenous children in rural areas and up to 40 percent of those in urban areas do not attend secondary school, which can make them more vulnerable to child labor. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines lacked social programs for children engaging in commercial sexual exploitation and begging, while many Brazilian states lacked resources and shelters to adequately assist child victims of human trafficking.

Secondary school attendance and completion rates remain low throughout the region and natural disasters, violence, and migration pose barriers to access education. In 2017, Hurricane Maria damaged or destroyed many schools in the Caribbean, resulting in long interruptions to children’s education. In Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras widespread violence and the recruitment of children into gangs continued to hinder access to education. Children fleeing the crisis in Venezuela also experienced difficulties accessing education. Efforts are underway in this region to address these issues.

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