The Inter Press Service on May 18th 2018 reported that 5.7 million children across Latin America are exposed and exploited for child labour and other forms of modern-day slavery. In particular Paraguay which has one of the highest rates of poverty has exemplified child labour. Brazil and Mexico are other regions where child labour refuses to disappear. Though the practice of child labour has reduced substantially but steps to eradicate it in Latin America have failed miserably.

International Legal Framework

‘Child Labour is work performed by a child before attaining the minimum legal age that is likely to interfere with his or her education, or to be harmful to their health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development’ – Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 32.1. The main information provider on child labour, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conduct research and publish reports on the issue and have a special department dedicated to the elimination of child labour – the International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).

The Practice Of ‘Criadazgo’ In Paraguay

Recently Inter Press Service along with IPEC voiced against the practice of ‘Criadazgo’ prevailing in rural areas of Paraguay which persists irrespective of laws prohibiting child labour. This practice involves very poor families being forced to give away their under aged children to families or relatives who are financially well off, in order for them to take responsibility of their upbringing. When Paraguay was torn down by two wars, one in late 19th Century and one on early 20th Century, the country dwelled in the hands of the women and children to recreate the country. The prevalent poverty forced mothers to adopt such practice while they worked on rebuilding the nation and survival. This deep rooted custom continues. The criaditos (little servants) from 5-15 year old are exposed to forced labour and restless domestic work. There they are abused and exploited and subjected to precarious conditions. Many of the tasks revolve around high-risk sectors like firework, pharmaceuticals, mining, fishing etc.

This practice is even more horrendous because people believe such act is one of solidarity and harmony. It indeed is a form of child labour, actually, one of the worst kinds. The natives defend this inhumane practice as a means of survival for people living in extreme poverty. Such practice also results in/fosters cheap labour, as the requirement of the child labours is negligible (even if not, the masters make sure that the requirement remains minimum or nothing at all).

It’s ironical how families adopt such practice to ensure better living conditions for them but what they actually do is push their children into hazardous child labour/slavery to be mistreated and punished and at times even starved to death. Undoubtedly the practice continues because of poverty and inequality.

Reports claim that this dreadful scenario is left unseen and mostly invisible and campaigns to fight against it faces defiance from the Congress and opposition from other sectors as well.

The Scenario in Brazil and Mexico.

Mexico is another State in Latin America which pushes the modern-day slavery as it records for 2.5 million child labours in 2018. The problem in Mexico concentrates around child exploitation in Textile Maquilas or sector of Maquiladoras which are manufacturing operations involving importing and exporting of certain materials or equipments. The scenario is worrisome as the children are forced to work in overheated rooms without adopting the minimum safety measures such like facemasks and gloves. They work for more than 48 hours a week and are highly underpaid.

The researchers from National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) state that, ‘to withstand the workloads child labours often inhale drugs like marijuana or crack. Strategies have been used to evade accountability. In case of labour inspections the working children are hidden in the bathrooms between the bundles of jeans.’

Exploitation in the macquiladoras also includes, verbally assaulting the children for not meeting the deadlines of manager, sexual harassment, inhaling lint from jeans, repetitive work of cutting fabric (with large scissors which hurts their hands) etc.

The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), in 2017 report, stated that 1.8 million children between the ages of 5 – 17 who work in Brazil, of them 54.4% do so illegally. IBGE explains that ‘though child labour does not always constitutes slavery, children who are forced to work in exchange for some kind of remuneration or just to help their families, with the resulting damage to their educational and social development is a form of child labour too.’

UNICEF gave a reality check in 2017 by publishing a report according to which there are around 218 million child labours in the world, 1 out of every 7 children and around 22,000 children die in work related accidents every year. Child labour is a problem because it deprives children of their basic rights i.e freedom and protection against exploitation. Eliminating child labour is socially and morally imperative and this cannot be ignored any longer.

Any and every form of child labour is unacceptable. It subsists because people make excuses and accept it. It exists as a result of failure of proper enforcement and implementation of international conventions and legislations trying to eradicate child labour. It persists since the practice of child labour is next to being ‘invisible’ in the countries. It subsists because international community cooperates to actually allow it to exist, because child labour could be ended with a strong political will and general will. It subsists because of the global demand of goods which are cheaply supplied, furthering the need of cheap labour. What can be cheaper (and at times free!) than child labour? It persists because right to education of the children has been compromised and not respected. It persists because the education system in nations have discriminated against the vulnerable and the poor. It still subsists because there hasn’t been done enough to end it. And it subsists because we allow it to subsist.

Authored by: Anusha Dash (Fourth Year Learner, Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA)

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