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Bolivia legalizes work by children as young as 10

Associated Press

EL ALTO, Bolivia (AP) -- Alicia weaves through El Alto's stalled traffic under a blazing sun, hawking colorful woven flowers to grumpy drivers and lovers.

With luck, the 12-year-old and her mother will together muster $18 by day's end, all the while keeping watch over her younger brother and sister, ages 8 and 6.

"It is difficult for my mother to sell alone because she has to look after my siblings," said Alicia, who normally goes to school in the afternoon but is using her vacation to help her mother by working the entire day. As her siblings sleep, her mother knits the flowers that Alicia sells.

While most of the world is trying to diminish child labor, Bolivia has become the first nation to legalize it from age 10. Congress approved the legislation early this month, and Vice President Alvaro Garcia signed it into law Thursday in the absence of President Evo Morales, who was traveling.

The bill's sponsors say lowering the minimum work age from 14 simply acknowledges a reality: Many poor families in Bolivia have no other choice than for their kids to work. The bill offers working children safeguards, they say.

"Child labor already exists in Bolivia and it's difficult to fight it. Rather than persecute it, we want to protect the rights and guarantee the labor security of children," said Sen. Adolfo Mendoza, one of the bill's sponsors.

Under the legislation, 10-year-olds will be able to work as long as they are under parental supervision and also attend school. It sets 12 as the minimum age for a child to work under contract. They also would have to attend school.

"To eliminate work for boys and girls would be like eliminating people's social conscience," Morales said in December in support of unionized young workers who marched on Congress to prevent it from ratifying a bottom-end work age of 14.

"The president gave us his support. He also worked as a boy, herding llamas," Rodrigo Medrano, head of the Union of Boy, Girl and Adolescent Workers, told The Associated Press. He said there is no alternative in a society where half the population is poor.

Jo Becker, the children's rights advocacy director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, disagrees.

"Bolivia's move is out of step with the rest of the world," she said. "Child labor may be seen as a short-term solution to economic hardship, but is actually a cause of poverty."

Becker said people who start work as children end up with less education and lower earnings as adults. They are then more likely to send their own children to work, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Bolivia should instead invest in ways to lift families out of poverty, she said. It already does in a limited way, paying a per-child subsidy of $28 a year to families whose children attend school.

Carmen Moreno, an International Labor Organization official working to reduce child labor, said Bolivia's law contravenes a U.N. convention designating 14 as the minimum work age.

It also runs against the regional current. Mexico has set age 15 as the minimum and Chile age 16, Moreno said.

The U.N. agency says child labor is down one-third globally since 2000, with Latin America and the Caribbean together accounting now for just 13 million of the planet's estimated 168 million working children.

A 2008 study done by the ILO and Bolivian government found that 850,000 children ages 5 to 17 were working in Bolivia, roughly half in the countryside and half in the cities. Nearly nine in 10 were in the worst kinds of jobs, including sugar cane harvesting and underground mining, a proven life-shortener.

More recent statistics are lacking, but it's estimated that 1 million Bolivian children work regularly, accounting for 15 percent of the workforce. They toil in textiles, on farms and as street vendors, coca leaf pickers and porters at markets.

One in three don't attend school, studies show.

For Alicia, a childhood of play and leisure is not an option, especially since her father died two years ago. She says some days she is so tired from standing constantly that studying is difficult.

"There are days when I want to go out and have fun like those children I see go to the movie theater, but I see the effort my mother makes and I forget about all that," she said. "How can I rest when she doesn't?"

Join the discussion

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coopdabomb July 18 2014 at 5:23 AM

This is what kids in the U.S. should be doing. This would keep them off their phones and games. They might actually learn something about money and responsibility

Flag Reply +21 rate up
4 replies
Guam Betty July 17 2014 at 10:46 PM

It's their culture for crying out loud you bleeding hearts! Secondly, they're not being worked to death by lashing , and to be honest I'd rather see young people doing honest work than roaming the streets after dark looking for trouble like we Americans whose parents pamper and coddle and not knowing where or what their kids were doing!!!

Flag Reply +16 rate up
4 replies
Mike July 18 2014 at 8:15 AM

This is all the Vatican's fault telling people to have children that they can't afford to take care of.

Flag Reply +10 rate up
5 replies
tomkota July 18 2014 at 7:55 AM

our kids should learn something from this....they have it gerry good...and no it not our problem ...stay out of it..
if we keep taking in kids here they will end up doing this or into gangs
it was not long ago when kids worked in this county

Flag Reply +8 rate up
2 replies
buffalogal tomkota July 18 2014 at 12:29 PM

Our own kids are in gangs.
Work? Our kids? Today?
Dream on.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Kate tomkota July 18 2014 at 1:55 PM

It hasn't been legal for children to work in this country for a very long time. What happens to children all over the world IS our problem, or rather, it is to anyone who has the slightest compassion for others, which clearly you do not.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
jayjay_jones1 July 18 2014 at 1:32 AM

What _ucking children? They don't have any children left. They are sending them all to the U.S. to MOOCH a FREE LIFE form the American Tax Payer!!!

Flag Reply +7 rate up
4 replies
Ma Fosz July 17 2014 at 11:18 PM

Can't you just see the REPUBLICAN PARTY pushing legalizes work by children as young as ten years old once AMERICA get a REPUBLICAN President. Just think of all the money the REPUBLICANS will be making off of child labor. Once this happens you will see the minimum wage in America drop to maybe $2.00 per hour.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
11 replies
cshae89546 July 18 2014 at 8:50 AM

Got to wonder when the U.S. border will be flooded with Bolivian children fleeing the "humanitarian crisis" there. Tell America again why U.S. taxpayer have to spend ~$8 BILLION a year financing the United Nations? They failed in El Salvador, Guatemala and Hondouras, can't help anywhere in the Middle East and apparently can't even get the Russian's to stop shooting down civilian aircraft.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
2 replies
buffalogal cshae89546 July 18 2014 at 12:31 PM

Who are they?

Flag Reply 0 rate up
sherriemiranda1 cshae89546 July 18 2014 at 2:10 PM

They failed because they supported the wrong side, esp. in El Salvador! And Israel too.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Robert July 17 2014 at 11:06 PM

obama has some children you can have

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
miltrand7 Robert July 18 2014 at 8:41 PM

I like to see you try to get close to one of them.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
tomkota July 18 2014 at 10:26 AM

stay out of it..Obama has made us athird world power...and soon out kids will be doing the same things.and with more kids comming accross the boaded everday i see no hope here..

Flag Reply +3 rate up
2 replies
stevenjonessales tomkota July 18 2014 at 2:06 PM

My name is tomkota. I got hit in the head with a rock and cannot stop dooling. Duhhhh

Flag Reply 0 rate up
miltrand7 tomkota July 18 2014 at 8:39 PM

Last time I checked, we were still the most powerful country in the world

Flag Reply 0 rate up
alfredschrader July 18 2014 at 7:27 AM

I went to school, did my homework, AND cut lawns and delivered newspapers. It taught me a work ethic.
You could say that I'm a success as a result.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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