The children fighting to work

By Rebecca Davis 18 November 2011

Child labour is widely considered something that children should be protected from. But across Latin America, a movement is growing which sees children lobbying for the right to work. By REBECCA DAVIS.

Unatsbo is the Union of Child and Adolescent Workers in Bolivia, representing 15,000 Bolivian workers between the ages of eight and 18. They are a drop in the ocean: in Latin America alone the International Labour Organisation estimates that there are about 14 million workers between the ages of five and 17. For the world at large, that figure rises to 215 million. Speaking to Time this week, Noemi Gutiérrez, 17, one of the leaders of Unatsbo, said: “We’d all like a world where kids don’t have to work, but our current economic reality means we work to help our families, and our rights ought to be protected.”

The reason why governments will not protect these rights, however, is not because they don’t care, but because they don’t want to condone child labour. This is the breach into which these child labour unions step. There are currently eight of them in Latin America. The unions require their members to stay in school, but in exchange they work to secure better pay for the children and improve their working conditions.

This might all seem like a depressing throwback to Victorian-era England, which saw children as young as four employed in factories. But the fact is that even in current-day America, certain states are quietly rolling back labour laws to allow minors to be employed. In June Time reported that Maine now allows children under 18 to work 24 hours a week and up until 10.15pm on school nights. Missouri considered going further this year and mooted removing restrictions on employing children under the age of 14. DM

Read more:

  • In Latin America, Looking at the Positive Side of Child Labor, in Time.



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