Aug 4, 2014
The Bolivian government is lowering the legal age for child labor to ten years of age. This says a lot about social reality in one of the poorest countries of Latin America. According to a United Nations standard, child labor is supposed to be prohibited for children under age 14, and Bolivia will be the first country in the world to authorize it from age ten.
The Bolivian government says it is simply legalizing what already occurs, and it’s going to reduce extreme poverty by 2025. Plus, this law is supposed to protect the child workers: they mustn’t be prevented from going to school, the work can’t be dangerous, and the children have to consent and have the approval of their parents. But first of all, this proves that the Morales Administration is powerless to fight child labor. And how do they expect to enforce these rules, when up to now child labor has been widespread despite being illegal?
The main problem is the extreme poverty of the big majority of the Bolivian population. Today, 35% of Bolivians live on less than $2 a day, and the average annual income of $2,550 per person ranks among the lowest in Latin America. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, 850,000 children from ages seven to fifteen are already working in dangerous conditions. Legalizing this work won’t change the situation, nor the fact that parents need their children’s labor to survive.
Bolivia has wealth. Spanish aristocrats got extremely rich by using the Indian population as slaves in the silver mines of Potosi. Since that time, the country has continuously been bled of its resources: natural gas, copper, precious wood – but none of these riches have benefitted the Bolivian workers. While this area used to be one of the most populous in Latin America, today Bolivia is the poorest country with the fewest people. It has only 10 million people for a country a bit bigger than Texas.
Some child workers have rejoiced at the law that just recognized them. “We aren’t thieves, we are workers and we must have the same rights as others,” said the sister of one. But first and foremost children should have the right to a decent education and a real childhood.