New law in Bolivia

ILO’s concerns regarding new law in Bolivia dealing with child labour

The new Code for Children and Adolescents, Law No. 548, of 17 July 2014 published in the Official Gazette of the Government of Bolivia on 23 July 2014, deals with the “Right to protection of the child and adolescent at work” (Chapter VI).

Statement | 28 July 2014
The Government of Bolivia has ratified ILO Convention No. 138 on minimum age for admission to employment and work and ILO Convention No. 182 on worst forms of child labour. The ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR), the only body invested with the authority to do so, will examine the conformity of new Code with the aforementioned Conventions during its November-December 2014 session. Without prejudice to any comment that may be made by the CEACR and pending this examination, the ILO raises the following concerns regarding certain aspects of the new Code.

The new Code fixes the minimum working age at 14 years, as declared by Bolivia in 1997, when Convention No. 138 was ratified. However, this new Code allows for reducing that minimum age in certain cases.

Firstly, it allows for children and adolescents aged 10 to 14 years to work in self-employment. It should be noted that Convention No. 138 does not allow work or employment (including self-employment) under the specified minimum working age, namely 14 years in the case of Bolivia.

Secondly, it allows for children and adolescents aged 12 to 14 years to work for a third party. It should be noted that Convention No. 138 allows work as of 12 years only for light work which does not threaten children’s health and safety, or hinder their education or vocational orientation and training.

In addition, the ILO is concerned that the new Code might not adequately protect children engaged in hazardous work in the family or community sphere where children work in fishing on rivers and lakes, in agriculture, livestock breeding and in masonry. The law itself lists all these activities as hazardous, and therefore forbidden, while an exception is made if they are carried out within the family or community sphere. Children engaged in such activities in the family or community sphere could still be engaged in hazardous work that could also hinder their education. In accordance with Conventions Nos. 138 and 182, these children should be protected to the same extent as the new Code protects children engaged in such work outside the family and the social community sphere.

It should be noted that both Convention No. 138 and Convention No. 182 forbid hazardous work for all children under the age of 18 years. No general exception is possible concerning the minimum age for hazardous work, whether the work takes place in an employment relationship or within the family or community sphere.

Moreover, the ILO notes that certain declarations made within the framework of the adoption of the new Code could imply that child labour is an inevitable reality. Numerous studies and analyses show the inter-generational cycle of poverty and child labour. Child labour prevents children from acquiring the education and skills they need to access decent work as adults and allow them, in the future, to put their children in school. Child labour cannot be justified as a “necessary evil” and a means to development. Governments are obliged to protect children and adolescents from child labour by, among other measures, establishing social protection floors to protect them from poverty.

The new Code also goes against the global trend to progressively increase the minimum age for admission to employment, in line with the age for completing compulsory education. A number of countries, including several in Latin America, have in later years adopted legislation to this effect.

According to the latest available data, in 2008, 746,000 children were considered to be in child labour in Bolivia. The ILO welcomes that, in the recent years, public education, health, labour and social protection services have been strengthened in Bolivia. It also welcomes that the age for completing compulsory education has been increased to 17 years (Education Law No. 70 “Avelino Siñani – Elizardo Pérez”, 2010). All these measures are clear proof of the Bolivian authorities’ intention and will to promote human and economic development for all its citizens.

The ILO recognises the efforts made in Bolivia in updating its legislation to protect and guarantee the rights of Bolivian children and adolescents by means of this new Code.

The ILO will continue to support the efforts made by the Bolivian authorities, employers’ and workers’ organizations and civil society to work towards the elimination of child labour and the promotion of decent work for adults.