Child labour in Colombia reveals sad truths

child laborer Colombia
A child laborer in a Colombian mine.

Figures released recently by the National Statistics Department (DANE ) reveal a disturbing trend in the numbers of child workers.

During the last couple of decades Colombia has made progress when it comes to child labour, yet numbers released last month by a joint commission are hardly encouraging. For example, 27 percent of all minors between ages 15 and 17 work informally. The country’s total for 2011 is 13 percent or 1.5 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 dedicated to some sort of labor activity even if they also perform chores at home and attend school.

Although Colombia has a better track record than other developing countries, the stats released by the Ministry of Labour and the state’s Child Welfare Institute (ICBF) indicate that the social conditions which force youngsters to work are still high in the regions and departmental capitals such as Monteria (18%) and Bucaramanga (14%) topping the list. Of the high numbers in the regions, 19 percent of all child labour takes place in rural areas and almost double the numbers compared with the cities at 10 percent.

Young people get work in the informal sector, which of every ten employed accounts for seven working without any recourse to social benefits and job stability. The rise in informal labour shows that educational opportunities are lacking and poverty and economic displacement issues continue to force youngsters into factories and the street.

Jorge Bustamante, director of DANE, claims that most of the minors who join the informal workforce are also asked to help with significant household chores, which include running errands, going to the market, cleaning and maintenance. Allegedly, the principle reasons that the child population works is “to have their own money” and “to participate in the economic activity of the family.” However, he also reported that 23% of working children don’t attend school.

The rise in informal employment among youngsters is worrisome for the government, and the Ministry of Labour wants to encourage small businesses to give real and stable employment opportunities to some of the country’s most vulnerable. Currently, some 321,000 businesses of which 233,000 can be considered small have agreed to uphold the Ley de Formalización y Generación de Empleo (2010) (Formalization and Generation of Employment Law) and have so far created close to half a million jobs for youngsters and 60,000 for women over 40 years of age.


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