14 of every 100 people working in Colombia are children
-Today is the day to say No to Child Labor-
The fact that 14.3% of the employed population is under the age of 17 is, or should be, an embarrassment to any country. This is the child labor rate in Colombia, where, according to the latest statistics of DANE*, 1,628,300 children are permanently employed; clear evidence of a grave deficit in decent work, and of the increasing poverty rate and decreasing income that the Colombian families are suffering, especially in rural areas.
The unemployment of parents or their unstable working conditions, the limited access educational, health, food or recreational programs, resulting in the insecurity in the neighborhoods and the poverty produced by the unequal distribution of national wealth, continue to be the principle causes of child labor in Colombia. Children are being forced to go out and work to add to their family’s income.
The DANE informs us that 786,567 children between the ages of 5 and 17 hold various jobs, 841,733 children work 15 or more hours per week in their homes. These numbers together total 1,628,300, which constitutes a 14.3% child labor rate.
36.4% of child laborers are engaged in agricultural work. Following agriculture as the next most common child employer is the trade industry with 30.4%. Regarding salary, 37.6% of child laborers do not receive pay, and 28% receive only one-quarter of the minimum wage. 28.1% of child laborers earn a wage that falls between one-quarter of minimum wage, and the minimum wage itself, and only 5.8% earn more than the minimum wage.
In addition to the lower female child labor rate (4.2% as compared with 9.4% of boys), there are broad differences in the types and conditions of the work. For example, of the total number of children who work at home more than 15 hours per week, 77% are female. Additionally, 53% of young girls participate as family workers without pay in the trade sector.
Regarding the rural-urban relationship, while the child labor rate in the country was 10.9%, the rate in the cities was 5.4%, despite the 2% drop from 2005.
Situation in Antioquia and Medellin
Taking into account the cutoff age decided upon by the presidential Agency for Social Action, the situation of child labor in Antioquia is very worrying. Antioquia, especially including its rural areas, is the province that presents the worst statistics, where 24,500 children work. The municipalities of Anori and Santa Fe de Antioquia have the highest rates of agricultural child labor, while Apartado, in the Uraba zone, has the lowest rate. The situation in Apartado is explained by the high levels of agricultural formalization in this area, and the presence of the union that prohibits, by unanimous decree, child labor in the banana plantations.
In Medellin, and the Metropolitan Area, according to DANE’s 2007 statistics, there are 707,343 children between the ages of 5 and 17, of which 60,023 are child laborers in the industrial, trade and confections and textiles sectors, or work more than 15 hours per week in their homes. Of these child laborers, 40% do not go to school.
Children in the war
Forced recruitment is considered one of the worst forms of child labor, according to the 182nd Convention of the International Workers Organization. In Colombia, child conscription is one of the two humanitarian indicators that, instead of decreasing, is actually increasing. The other is the use of landmines.
According to the Attorney of the International Court of Children Affected by War and Poverty, at the beginning of 2008, between 11,000 and 14,000 children are engaging in armed conflict in Colombia. One in every four soldiers was a child.
However, the numbers are not clear, as the paramilitaries did not turn over all of the children in their ranks during the demobilizations. Moreover, the resurge of urban bands and cells has made it possible that the numbers are even higher – a prospect which is universally condemned by national and international human rights organizations.
One of the primary findings of studies and experts is that child conscription is highest among poor children as is mainly a rural phenomenon. In the country, poverty is the direct track to forced child recruitment. The indigenous and African-descended populations who inhabit the districts that are farther removed from the urban centers are particularly vulnerable. Examples of these zones are Choco, Antioquia, Cordoba, Guaviare, Putumayo, Santander, Cundinamarca, Valle de Cauca and Meta. These zones have the highest permanent averages of child labor.
According to the MAPP-OEA, these recruitments are especially prevalent in the agro-industrial zone of Uraba, some communities in Medellin, and various parts of the provinces of Cesar and Magdalena. These zones are the territories of highest risk and dispute regarding the new crime organizations.
However, the phenomenon is tending to become more urban, due to the new emerging crime organizations that are disputing areas under their control, especially the drug trafficking business.
The solutions to child labor
It is imperative that public policies and child labor eradication programs that are more extensive than the prohibition, control, access and subsidies of temporary programs be designed, as current temporary measures are weak solutions to a structural problem.
The coming together of the governmental and civil society agendas should bring to fruition social politics that will end the situation of vulnerability when families agree to realize the conditions necessary for a dignified life. For example, there should be a basic set of rights, and a basic income that would provide for necessities such as food, health and education. Adults should enjoy decent working conditions, and measures of social responsibility that would guarantee their livelihoods and rights, and fundamental child development should be fostered.
In the city of Medellin the effort of the municipal government to design and develop programs of rapprochement, awareness, recognition and attention to the impoverished families. From this program, positive effects on those family groups that receive a monetary subsidy that is mainly used to cover health and family costs can be seen. These programs have helped children stay in school, and have minimized their participation in labor activities. However, the result is insufficient to completely eradicate child labor.
*(DANE : Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadistica). The Colombian Government’s official statistics administration
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