July 16, 2014: Bolivian Congress’ recent nod to the Bill that allows children as young as ten years to work is a sheer insult to the universal norms and standards that have historically evolved from the vast experience of the global community.
They have turned deaf ear towards the independent voices of the global civil society. This regressive move is a blatant denial to the opportunity of education – the only weapon that can pave way for prosperity, equity, justice and sustainability in the society.
Bolivia has slipped down several notches on the child rights reforms agenda by passing such a Bill. This clearly comes in the wake of arguments purported by some organisations giving poverty as the excuse. This step has shocked the global fraternity because the country has already ratified ILO Convention 138 on minimum age of employment; Convention 182 on worst forms of child labour and had vehemently supported Dakar Framework for Action towards Education for All.
It has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that child labour perpetuates a vicious circle of illiteracy and poverty. Employers prefer children over adults primarily because they do not ask for minimum wages. They work long hours with very little or no pay. Children cannot unionise and raise voice against exploitation that they face at the hands of their employers. It is important to note that globally there are 168 million child labourers and around 190 million unemployed adults. Clearly every child works in place of an adult. These children keep on doing repetitive tasks; they miss out on education and grow up to become unskilled individuals with eroded employability, thus they remain stuck in poverty. Bolivian economy cannot take off until all its children are at school attaining quality education and grow up to become qualified and skilled citizens. Thus child labour is counterproductive for the county’s economy.
Furthermore it is difficult to fathom that the Government still stakes a tall order that there would be no room for exploitation of working children and that the work done by them will be thoroughly monitored and regulated. With about 850,000 child labourers in Bolivia and only 78 inspectors, the monitoring task per inspector is 10,897 child labourers already. Reducing the minimum age of employment to 10 years will further multiply the workload on the inspectors and they would not be able to inspect and report violations of child rights at workplaces. Thus, reduction in minimum age would only accentuate the chances of the children of Bolivia being more susceptible to trafficking, slavery, servitude, forced labour and violence.
Now the only ray of hope is Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose assent will transform this Bill into a law. Global March Against Child Labour in association with Anti-Slavery International and Human Rights Watch had made earnest appeal to Evo Morales on several occasions. We once again hope and urge the President for taking into consideration the genuine predicaments of the civil society before he takes a call to sign the Bill that has already been passed by the Congress. We yet again request him for not lowering the minimum age of employment and ensure that all children in Bolivia are in school attaining quality and meaningful education and the adults enjoying decent working conditions.
Chairperson, Global March Against Child Labour