Child labour and the law in Bolivia

In August 2014, Bolivia enforced a new Code for Children and Adolescents. It addresses many of the concerns children in this South American country have each and every day –and also deals with the interests of working children.

The Constitution

The foundations for this law were laid back in 2008 when Bolivia adopted a new constitution in which the use of the term “trabajo infantil” (Spanish for child labour) was deliberately avoided. Instead, it explicitly adopted the stance that when a child works to support the local community, this has a positive socialization effect. Particularly interesting and really important is the fact that work is not just work. Many of the indigenous languages in Bolivia have a wide variety of expressions for different types of work. And the constitution does not rate all these types of work positively.

Bolivia’s new constitution is also characterized by another special feature: Even whilst this document was still being drafted, the national confederation of children’s unions in Bolivia, UNATSBO(Unión de Niños y NiñasTrabajadores de Bolivia) was involved on requirement of the children. Through this approach, the real life experiences of working children found their way into the final wording of the constitution.

The new Code for Children and Adolescents

The unions also actively participated in the development of the new Code for Children and Adolescents – even submitting their own legislative proposal. After a long consultation process and numerous discussions, the final legal text emerged – setting down somewhat unconventional guidelines for the employment of children. Since the law came into force, children may now work independently from the age of 10 and upwards and take on dependent (i.e. hired) work from the age of 12 – although some very specific conditions apply: Certain tasks are classified as being too strenuous or dangerous so that children in general are banned from carrying them out. In addition, the children must also have the opportunity to go to school whilst they are working and all work activities have to be registered with ombuds offices specially set up to this purpose.

All these rules and regulations are aimed at protecting children. As Lourdes Cruz Sánchez, a UNATSBO representative, explains: “The children will work anyway – whether it is legal or not. That’s why it is important to protect them whilst they are working.”