1,6 million children work in Colombia
The 12th of June was marked by the SIMPOC as the International Day for the Elimination of Child Labor in a reality that can be astonishing in the world. To say how many children work in the five continents is difficult because in many nations the phenomenon has not the enough importance and child labor is consider as ‘normal’. In Latin America the 19 percent of children between 4 and 14 years old of age are working, according to the studies of SIMPOC. Then we have Colombia with about 1,7 million labor children. The reasons why children become involved in labor are many, but developing societies like the ones of Colombia and Latin American are easy understandable: unfair females salaries, detriment of the agriculture, displacement by violence (refugees), poor conditions for education and general low salaries. Poor families easily accept the idea that their children have to work to help in the home economy and they see it as normal, while minors become easily prey of exploitation.
Colombia, a country of children
The Colombian population is young. It can mean a great hope for its society, but it means also that many social evils of the contemporary Colombia are endured by children and teenagers: displacement by violence, poverty, lack of services like education and health and child labor exploitation.
According to the National Department of Statistics (DANE), by December 2007 the 26 percent of Colombians were between 5 and 17 years old. From this number, the 51.9 percent were males and the 48,1 percent were females. 72 percent of those minors (5 – 14 y.o.) live in the cities. From the total number of Colombian children, 11.6 percent do not attend school, being most of them males and most of them in rural areas.
The children who do not assist to school, according to the researches of DANE in 2007, said that the cost of education if very high (24.6 percent), they do not like to study (20 percent), they considered that they are not in school age to study (14.5 percent) and they “need to work” (6.1 percent.)
Many children who attend school work also, but most of child labors do not attend school. Helping at home is considered also as child labor, because of the 57.6 percent of those who do not attend school, work at home.
Between 2005 and 2007, child labor declined in 2.3 percent for males and 1.7 for females. There are more boys involved in child labor than girls. During the period 2003 and 2005 the child labor in Colombia was of 23 percent, while it was 19.3 percent in 2007.
Why children are working
Reasons can be many. Parents are the first responsible of course, but the problematic is more complex. You can not say to an illiterate father stop to send the child to work and send him to school when the guy has incomes for 50 dollars every month.
Asking to the same children why they work, the 79.6 percent said in 2007:
- I like to work, because I want to have my own money.
- I have to help my family.
- I have to help in the expenses of my family.
20,4 percent said:
- Working is a honest activity and give experience.
- I have to pay the bill of my studies.
Social protection, salaries and sectors of work
The 19.6 percent of child workers are not affiliated to any system of social security like health, while salaries have not control, putting children under the risk of exploitation. The 37.6 percent of child workers (5 to 17 years old) did not receive salaries in 2007, the 28 percent received a quarter of the minimum wage or a minimum wage that was 433.700 CO pesos in 2007 (about 200 US dollars) and the 5.8 percent of children received more than a minimum wage.
The 38.4 percent of children were working in 2007 as independent, the 33 percent work for their families without a salary, the 24.9 percent are workers or employees and the 3.6 percent work as domestics. The 41.9 percent of child workers were in agriculture, the 36.4 percent in commerce, the 11.6 percent in industry and the 10.1 percent in services.
The 49.6 percent of children work in a rank of less than 24 hours per week, 33.6 percent in a rank between 25 to 48 hours/week and the 16.8 percent with more than 48 hours/weeks.
The children by regions
Following the research of DANE for 2007, the Caribbean region of Colombia registered 2,649 minors aged 5 to 17. The East regions of Colombia registered 2,060 children, the Central region 2,948 children, the Pacific region 2,089 children and finally Bogotá with 1,613 child workers. It means in percents: East region 9.6 percent, Pacific region 8.5 percent, Central region 7.7 percent, Caribbean region 5 percent and Bogotá 3.3 percent.
The 13 metropolitan areas of Colombia registered in 2007 a number of 220 thousand child workers, that means 4.9 percent of the total number and meaning that most child workers are located in rural areas and small Colombian towns. From the total of urban child workers, 129 thousand were males (5,5 percent) and 91 thousand were females (4.2 percent). The 13 metropolitan areas of Colombia and their percent in urban child workers are Medellín (4.1%), Barranquilla (2,7%), Bogotá (3,4%), Cartagena (3,6%), Manizales (4,5%), Montería (9,9%), Villavicencio (5,6%), Pasto (5,9%), Cúcuta (8,3%), Pereira (3,7%), Bucaramanga (7,3%), Ibagué (12,1%), Cali (8,3%).
Numbers this year are astonishing however, even if there were an improvement between 2005 and 2007. According to the reports of DANE, 787 thousand children under 17 years old are working at home or domestic with the consequent school absence. 841,733 children work for more than 15 hours/week. The General Procurator introduced its own report in its policies to eliminate child labor. However, the Procurator found that only 12 municipalities in Colombia had destined financial resources to implement programs for the child labor elimination.
Again policies put emphasis in repressive norms like the punishment of parents who make children to work. Such actions can be of great benefit for the children, of course, but at the same time does not look for the roots of the problem. Children work if families are poor. Development in the economical conditions of children, protection of the rights of women to fair wages, a land reform to guarantee the development of rural areas and a definitive culture of child protection, should be the only way to eliminate this social evil.
Street children, children of the displaced by violence, child sexual abuse, child labor abuse, child sicarios… are the iceberg of a more symptomatic reality in Colombia where numbers of employment can be forced, when children have to work to get their own Christmas gifts… if the money would be enough.