Colombia makes progress on child labor: study

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The number of children working in Colombia has fallen by nearly 300,000 in the past four years but child labor remains rife in rural areas, researchers have said.

The percentage of children aged 5 to 17 working in the South American country dropped to 7.8 percent in 2016 from 10.2 percent in 2012 - equivalent to 291,000 children - according to a report by the National Union School (ENS) research center.

While Colombia’s child labor rates have fallen, about 850,000 children still work and are not in school, either full-time or at all, said the report, which was released on Tuesday.

Most children are found working in the agriculture, cattle ranching and forestry sectors, as well as in hotels and restaurants, the report said.

It is still common to see children working on city streets as vendors and cleaning car windscreens, as well as on farms.

“It’s indisputable that as long as working conditions of adults don’t improve .. children will continue to be part of an alternative generation of income for families,” the center, based in Colombia’s city of Medellin, said in its report.

Further driving child labor rates are local cultural attitudes, under which work is seen as character building for children and as a normal part of development, the report said.

Under Colombian law, children under 15 are not allowed to work and no child can be employed in a hazardous job that poses a risk to health or life.

In rural areas, child labor rates are nearly double that of urban areas, the report noted.

“This difference is understandable, but not acceptable, given the lack of decent work in the countryside and access to services such as education,” the report said.

Hundreds of children in Colombia have also been forcibly recruited by gangs to work as couriers of drugs and arms, according to human rights groups.

“Child labor is one of the conditions that most affects the development of children in the world and in Latin America,” the report said.

Globally, more than 150 million children, or nearly one in 10, are victims of forced labor. Progress in reducing that number has slowed, according to latest estimates by the U.N. labor agency, the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Child laborers are deprived of education and are more likely to have to settle later in life for unpaid work for the family or low-paying, unskilled jobs, the ILO says.