While many countries in the developing world are banishing domestic child labor practices, the government of Bolivia went in the opposite direction and recently announced that it would be lowering the working age for children from 14 to 10 years old. This law violates the common international child labor standards, which forbid children from under the age of 14 from workings (and from doing any hazardous work until they are 18 years old). As signatories of the United Nations International Convention on Child Labor developing countries such as Bolivia are allowed to have children as young as 12 or 13 years old work as long as it is with parental supervision and does not interfere with the education of the child.
The lowering of the legal working age of children to 10 years old is meant to reflect the reality of life in Bolivia where thousands of children work alongside their parents everyday selling food or goods in the market place or the streets. While it might be an accurate depiction of poverty in Bolivia, legalizing child labor is still a major human rights violation. The law specifies that children age 10 and up are allowed to work with their parents and children ages 12 and up are allowed to work as “contract employees” for other employers. The law begs the question, what reputable employer would hire a 12 year-old child to do an adult’s job? Most likely the answer is a deceitful employer looking to take advantage of the child through long hours and low pay.
The government of Bolivia is assuming that children are able to choose to work either for their families or outside employment, when in reality the children are rarely able to resist family pressure to go to work—especially when their family needs the money. The new law also does not provide any protection for children who work for their parents nor do they require any consent from the child. Both omissions in the law leave young children vulnerable to unscrupulous parents or employers. The Bolivian government believes that allowing children to work will increase economic opportunities for families in need. Yet this is a shortsighted solution to the cycle of poverty—children who are unable to go to school will remain in low-paying jobs suffering from economic hardship just like their parents.