The 2014 Child and Adolescent Code permits children as young as age 10 to work legally in certain situations, in violation of the International Labor Organization’s Convention No.138 on the minimum age for work. While the law states that the minimum age for work is 14, it also authorizes the Municipal Offices of the Child and Adolescent Advocate to permit children as young as age 10 to work if they choose to do so voluntarily and work independently or with the family. Children must also obtain permission from their parents. Children as young as 12 may work for third-party employers provided they obtain the same permissions. Ministry of Labor inspectors are responsible for identifying situations of forced child labor. When inspectors suspect such situations, they refer the cases to the Municipal Offices of the Child and Adolescent Advocate for further investigation in coordination with the Prosecutor’s Office. The law states that work should not interfere with a child’s right to education and should not be dangerous or unhealthy. Dangerous and unhealthy work includes work in sugar cane and Brazil nut harvesting, mining, brick making, hospital cleaning, selling alcoholic beverages, and working after 10 p.m., among other conditions. The Municipal Offices of the Child and Adolescent Advocate must answer a request for an underage work permit within 72 hours. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for authorizing work activity for adolescents over age 14 who work for a third-party employer. Municipal governments, through their respective Offices of the Child and Adolescent Advocates, are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, including laws pertaining to the minimum age and maximum hours for child workers, school completion requirements, and health and safety conditions for children in the workplace. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for identifying such cases through inspections and referring them to the Offices of the Child and Adolescent Advocates.
The Ministry of Labor received funds to conduct a national survey on child labor in 2016. Although the ministry indicated the study was conducted, results were not published.
Preliminary government estimates indicated that 740,000 children were employed, with 60 percent engaged in “familial work,” either in family businesses or alongside their parents, in often hazardous conditions.
Labor Ministry officials stated that inspectors conducted investigations throughout the year. The Directorate General of Labor, Occupational Safety, and Health and Fundamental Rights Unit of the ministry conducted 213 child labor inspections in 2016. Ministry officials did not have statistics on the number of children they had removed from hazardous situations.
Although authorities did not effectively enforce the laws due to a lack of resources, ministry officials stated in 2016 they had made progress on preventing child labor abuses via the new labor law. According to ministry officials, the 2014 Child and Adolescent Code allows officials to have a more accurate count of the number of working underage children. Before the law’s implementation, these children would hide from inspectors and observers, distorting the figures. Now that the law protects their employment, they were able to present themselves to inspectors, according to government officials.
The Ministry of Labor dedicated 12 inspectors to investigate child labor and report instances of forced labor and trafficking in persons. The ministry attempted to conduct a masters-level training program for general labor inspectors, which would provide them with the resources and knowledge necessary to detect violations. Seventy-five inspectors enrolled in training courses, but bureaucratic obstacles prohibited all but two individuals from completing the final certification.
In 2016 the ministry collaborated with the Inter-American Development Bank to implement a program that identifies and employs unemployed parents who have children in the work force. A ministry official stated that while there were varying reasons why children as young as 10 chose to work, one main reason was because their parents could not find steady employment. This program intended to secure jobs for underemployed parents on the condition that their children stop working. The ministry also provided the parents’ salaries for the first three months in order not to burden the businesses that provided employment. According to ministry officials, the project failed because the parents often lacked the qualifications for many of the jobs the government tried to secure for them.
Despite government efforts, child labor remained a serious problem. Government officials admitted that instances of child labor violations occurred throughout the country, especially in the mining sector. Officials acknowledged that adolescents ages 15-17 were working in the mining sector unregulated, because it was hard for inspectors to detect these individuals in the mines since they conducted inspections only in the formal sector.
Authorities did not provide information on the penalties for violation of child labor laws or the effectiveness of such penalties, nor did courts prosecute individuals for violations of child labor law during the year, although ministry inspectors referred cases for prosecution.
Among the worst forms of child labor, children worked in the sugarcane harvest, the Brazil nut harvest, brick production, hospital cleaning, domestic labor, transportation, agriculture, and vending at night. Children were also subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. A 2013 study estimated 3,000 to 4,000 children and adolescents worked in the Brazil nut harvest in Beni Department; indigenous groups confirmed a majority of these children were indigenous. Researchers also found that some children worked in Brazil nut processing factories, including at night.
There were reports that children were victims of forced labor in mining, agriculture, and as domestic servants. The media reported that minors under age 14 worked in brick manufacturing in El Alto and Oruro, and their parents sometimes contracted them to customers who needed help transporting the bricks.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings.