c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for employment in industrial, agricultural, or commercial companies is 15 years. The minimum age for work outside of these three sectors is 14, although children 12 and older may work for up to three hours per day outside of school hours in family enterprises, under supervision from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. The law allows children age 14 to be contracted apprentices; children 14 to 16 may not work as apprentices more than 25 hours a week. A September 2017 amendment to the labor code stated that it is illegal to employ children under the age of 16; however, it was unclear whether this provision would supersede the older statues that create the sectoral exceptions mentioned above.
The law prohibits young persons and children from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous; interferes with their education; or is harmful to their physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social health and development, including the use of children in criminal activities. The law also prohibits minors from working under dangerous or hazardous conditions, such as mining, construction, or sanitation services, and it prohibits night work in industrial enterprises for minors under 18. The September 2017 amendment doubles penalties for employing underage children at night. Prohibitions related to hazardous work, however, omit major economic sectors, including agriculture. No apparel factories were reported noncompliant with respect to child labor during the year. A report by the ILO’s BWH for the period of October 2017 to October 2018, however, found two cases of noncompliance for child labor because two factories failed to request proper identification for some workers during the hiring process.
There are no legal penalties for employing children in domestic labor. The law requires employers to pay domestic workers over age 15, thereby allowing employers of domestic workers to use “food and shelter” as a means of unregulated compensation for those under 15.
Persons between the ages of 15 and 18 seeking employment must obtain a work authorization from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor unless they are employed in domestic service. The labor code provides for penalties for failure to follow procedures, such as obtaining work authorization to employ minors between 15 and 18 legally, but it does not provide penalties for the employment of underage children. The limited penalties of between 3,000 and 5,000 HTG ($43 to $72) were not sufficient deterrents to protect children against labor exploitation.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, through the IBESR, is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. While enduring resource constraints hindered the IBESR’s ability to conduct effective child labor investigations, the IBESR and the BPM responded to reports of abuse in homes and orphanages where children worked. The government does not report on investigations into child labor law violations or the penalties imposed. Although the government and international donors allocated supplemental funds for the IBESR to acquire a new administrative space and hire more staff, the IBESR continued to lack sufficient social protection programs and effective legislation to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.
New members were appointed to the National Tripartite Committee against Child Labor, which included civil society actors, unions, and employers to address the issue of child labor and discuss the challenges associated with implementing new laws on child labor. As of September the committee had failed to meet due to lack of cohesion among labor union representatives.
The BPM is responsible for investigating crimes against children and referred exploited and abused children to the IBESR and partner NGOs for social services. Although the BPM has the authority to respond to allegations of abuse and apprehend persons reported as exploiters of child domestic workers, the BPM did not pursue restavek cases for investigation because there are no legal penalties it could impose on those who exploited children in these cases. A law with specific protections for child trafficking victims does not exist.
Children under age 15 commonly worked in the informal sector to supplement family income. Activities and sectors in which children worked included domestic work, subsistence agriculture, and street trades, such as selling goods, washing cars, serving as porters in public markets and bus stations, and begging. Children also worked with parents on small family farms, although the high unemployment rate among adults kept significant numbers of children from employment on commercial farms.
The worst forms of child labor, including forced child labor, continued to be problematic and endemic–particularly in domestic service. Exploitation of restaveks typically included families forcing them to work excessive hours on physically demanding tasks without commensurate pay or adequate food, refusing to provide an education, and subjecting them to physical or sexual abuse. Girls were often placed in domestic servitude in private urban homes by parents who were unable to provide for them, while boys more frequently were exploited for labor on farms. Restaveks who did not run away from families usually remained with them until the age of 14. Many families forced restaveks to leave before age 15 to avoid paying them wages as required by law. Others ignored the law, often with impunity.
Working on the streets exposed children to a variety of hazards, including severe weather, vehicle accidents, and crime. Abandoned and runaway restaveks constituted a significant proportion of the population of children living on the street, many of whom criminal gangs exploited in prostitution or street crime, while others became street vendors or beggars.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .