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Child labour in Latin America: The accident that changed Braulio's life

According to the new ILO Global Report "The end of child labour: Within reach", Latin America and the Caribbean have seen a rapid decline in child labour over the past four years. The number of children at work in the region has fallen by two-thirds, with just 5 per cent of children now engaged in work. ILO Online reports from Peru where the ILO works towards the progressive elimination of child labour in artisanal mines.

Article | 04 May 2006

LA RINCONADA, Peru (ILO Online) - Like many other children in La Rinconada, 14-year-old Braulio had worked in the mine since he was very young, carrying heavy loads of ore as a quimbalatero (stone crusher).

"One day I didn't feel well, I was very tired and fell down a few times while I was working. At the exit from the mine my barrow overturned and all the ore fell out. The captain was watching me. He kicked me hard because of this", he tells.

Braulio had heard about the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) project for the mines in La Rinconada, which had been reaching out to the community through its partner organization, CARE International.

"I had heard about it on the radio. I decided to contact the project. They came to the mine and talked to the mine manager, and he was sanctioned. After that, I only worked for one more month, helping to take care of the owner's warehouse."

The IPEC project in La Rinconada aims to strengthen and expand health, education, nutrition and other services, as well as to improve the working conditions of adult miners.

Awareness raising is also a priority. When Braulio, his brothers and their father began to attend meetings organized by the project, they learned that "working was not good for us. I had aches and pains, sometimes we didn't eat well, and it was difficult to go to school and study. Now we are in a better situation. We know more and want to move ahead and be successful in our lives".

Braulio's father now understands how important it is to offer a better future for his children. "My father was very grateful and told them that from now on only he would work, and that we could devote ourselves to school", he says.

Over 2,500 children have been helped by the IPEC/CARE project, which is working towards the progressive elimination of child labour in artisanal mines. The local community supports this goal and has increased its vigilance over child labour, to keep other children from sharing Braulio's experience in the mines.

"Every child in school"- from Bolsa Escola to Bolsa Familia

Progress has also been made in other Latin American countries. The new Report presents Brazil as an example to illustrate how countries can move forward in tackling child labour.

The upward trend in child labour in the country in the 1980s, and in particular the emergence of the highly visible phenomenon of street children, began to attract world attention and with it the involvement of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international agencies such as the ILO and UNICEF.

The time was also ripe for action with the restoration of democracy and the adoption of a new Constitution in 1988, followed by the Statute on Children and Adolescents enacted in July 1990. The Statute included ten sections on child labour and made it plain that child labour and the right to education are incompatible.

It was against this backdrop that Brazil joined IPEC in 1992 as one of the original six participating countries. The next decade saw impressive developments, as Brazil reached a threshold in the fight against child labour. "Many factors explain the decrease in the incidence of child labour from around the mid-1990s. One reason is the high level of social mobilization in Brazil", explains Guy Thijs, Director of ILO-IPEC.

What really made the difference was the establishment of a unique and innovative structure, the National Forum for the Prevention and Eradication of Child Labour, set up at the end of 1994 as a permanent environment around which social actors could build consensus and discuss policies and issues related to child labour and youth employment.

The new Constitution made eight years of education compulsory, and in February 2006 it was extended to nine years. From the mid-1990s an important breakthrough began to occur in primary school enrolments in the poorest regions - the North, North-East and Central West.

This was made possible by a strong public policy commitment to ensure that every child is in school. The Bolsa Familia programme and its predecessor (Bolsa Escola) provide cash support to families on the condition that children attend school. An innovative Programme for the Eradication of Child Labour (PETI) specifically targets working children. In addition to cash incentives, it provides educational and after-school support. Established in 1996 it now reaches over 1 million children aged from 9 to 15.

The net enrollment rate for the 7-14 age group rose from 86 per cent in 1991 to 97.1 per cent in 2004. This has in turn generated a strong demand for secondary education, in which enrollment increased by 10 per cent annually from 1995 - a growth rate that is perhaps unparalleled in any other country.

Latin America has taken the lead in the worldwide fight against child labour. "Latin America and the Caribbean are making the greatest progress with respect to the elimination of child labour. The number of economically active children aged 5-14 has fallen from 17.4 to 5.7 million over the last four years, with just 5 per cent of children now engaged in work", explains Thijs.

"The region is well ahead of both Asia and the Pacific on the one hand, and sub-Saharan Africa on the other, which registered more modest decreases", he concludes.

Note 1 - The end of child labour: Within reach, Global Report under the follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, report to the International Labour Conference, 95th Session, Geneva, 2006.