Bolivia Makes Child Labor Legal, In An Attempt To Make It Safer New legislation in Bolivia will allow children as young as 10 to work. Critics say the law will keep kids out of school, but supporters argue that children are working anyway — and need protection.

Bolivia Makes Child Labor Legal, In An Attempt To Make It Safer

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/336361778/336468369" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Bolivia is aiming to make life a little more fair for its youngest workers - with an unusual move. A new law there allows children as young as 10 to work legally. Child labor is a fact of life in many countries in the world, but Bolivia's the first to legalize it for children so young. There are critics, but the law has the support of one important group - the Bolivian Union of Child and Adolescent Workers, known as UNATSBO.

Sara Shahriari is a reporter in the capital, La Paz. She's been following this story.

Welcome to the program.

SARA SHAHRIARI: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: What kind of work are we talking about?

SHAHRIARI: We're talking about children in Bolivia doing all sorts of work. You'll see young people in the countryside working on family farms, herding sheep, herding llamas. Young people participate in the sugarcane harvest. In the city, people are shining shoes, they'll go out with their families to sell flowers on the street. And you'll even see young people, teenagers, working in silver and tin mines under really extreme working conditions.

MONTAGNE: Well, clearly there's a difference between a young person, you know, a 10-year-old kid, selling flowers on the streets - between that, and a young person working in a mine.

SHAHRIARI: Mining remains the worst form of child labor. And the government does not permit it legally for a child of any age. But despite that, it remains a job where a young person say, 14, 15 years old, can make a lot more money than at other jobs. And retains its attraction because of that, despite how dangerous it is.

MONTAGNE: What does the law say for children now who are newly, legally able to work, between ages of 10 and 14? What kinds of jobs can they do?

SHAHRIARI: A child between 10 and 12 is now allowed to work independently. So that would involve jobs like shining shoes, selling juice on the street - things like that, where they're not contracted by a boss. And then, a child from 12 to 14 can now hold a - contract work - as long as they don't work more than six hours a day. As long as they are given time to attend school, and it doesn't interfere with their schooling. All of this is supposed be with the permission of the parent or guardian and under supervision of a child protection agency.

MONTAGNE: So what are the origins of this law? I mean, I gather that the legal working age in Bolivia was, for a long time, 14 years old. Why push it down to 10?

SHAHRIARI: It allows children who are between 10 and 12 who are currently working on the streets, to work without, sort of, being moved along by the police. And children who are 12 to 14, now if they have a problem with their employer, have a legal leg to stand on. And they are supposed be paid minimum wage, just like an adult and enjoy the same rights as a worker.

MONTAGNE: Now, there has been some backlash - am I right? There in Bolivia, and even internationally, about this new law?

SHAHRIARI: There certainly has been. Bolivia's a party to the International Labor Organization's minimum age convention. So in a developing country the minimum age, according to that convention, should be 14 years old, which obviously Bolivia has moved away from.

People say that a child who is working doesn't have the proper time to dedicate to school, that it's going to trap people in a cycle of poverty because they're never going to be able to get an education that could move them out of it. People say that the minimum wage should be increased for adults so that they're more able to support their families.

MONTAGNE: And, kids you talked to? What has been generally the reaction to this?

SHAHRIARI: Talking with children from UNATSBO, who were organized, they say, look, we have to work. Our families don't have enough money. We want to give our mothers money so that they can buy food. We want to buy our school supplies. And we work, and we're going to continue to work. So this gives us an opportunity to be recognized and to be more protected as young workers.

But then, you'll talk to other young people who say, this is not a great situation. Our parents need to be able to have better jobs so that they can actually support our families.

MONTAGNE: Sara Shahriari is a reporter in La Paz, Bolivia.

Thanks for joining us.

SHAHRIARI: Thank you so much, Renee.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.