Why the Bolivian government shouldn’t accept child labour
Many people in the UK look to the Government of Evo Morales in Bolivia as one of the guiding lights of progressive development in Latin America. He is part of a rejection of neoliberal policies that were imposed on the region (sometimes without a democratic mandate) in the 1990s. But recently, the former child labourer has been backing a move to lower the legal working age to 12 or even less, contrary to the International Labour Organisation’s child labour conventions, and he has met with opposition from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Anti-Slavery International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the Global March against Child Labour.
Child labour is often an emotive subject, and organisations like Save the Children have come under fire before now for sometimes arguing that where it exists, it should be made as palatable as possible, because the children, and often their families, depend on the income it generates. Unions have generally taken a tougher line, arguing that child labour is the theft of childhood, as well as undermining living standards for all, and bad for economies often starved by child labour of the skills and education those children would otherwise develop (a major point for education unions who are often the strongest opponents of child labour here in the UK as well as abroad.) Where it exists, we call for the practice to be banned, and resources devoted to ensuring that the children and their families are not disadvantaged as a result.
The ILO’s Nadine Osseiran reports how this is working in Malawi, where US funding is helping get children out of poverty and squalor and into school. The testimony of the child domestic worker she quotes is the key to the issue, because children aren’t ‘benefiting’ from being put to work, they are usually being robbed of money, childhood and dignity.
As ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow writes:
“No country has ever managed to develop successfully and sustainably by leaving its children at work and out of school, a fact recognized across Latin America today where governments are putting laws and programmes in place to ensure school attendance and decent jobs for adults, on which families can build a future.”