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Economic Debacle Pushes Venezuelan Children Back into Labor Force

By: Elisa Vásquez - @elisavasquez88 - Jun 16, 2014, 8:31 am

EspañolIn Venezuela, 1.1 million children work in the informal economy, 300,000 in the formal economy, and 206,000 are engaged in illegal activities, such as prostitution and drug trafficking. Of these child laborers, 25 percent work without receiving any sort of compensation.

Venezuelan organizations gathered last Thursday at CEDICE headquarters as part of World Day Against Child Labour to discuss data released by the Citizen’s Law and Equity Foundation (FUNDECI). Their aim was to analyze the current situation in Venezuela regarding child labor.

Through a series of presentations, the group showed that Venezuela has improved since the 1980s in terms of education levels and child labor rates. However, declines in the national economy and increases in violence and organized crime in the last 10 years have created conditions conducive for increased child labor.

On Thursday, June 12, the United Nations stated that the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates 168 million children, or 1 in every 10, work throughout the world, and 85 million do so in forced situations and dangerous jobs.

In Venezuela, however, the latest official figures on the issue date back to 2006, and specialists warn that the lack of social policy could lead to more children dropping out of school and having to the enter the workforce to survive.

Gloria López, director of the Research Center for Children and Families (CENDIF) of the Metropolitan University of Venezuela, said that public policies in recent years have been aimed at protecting young people and children who are already working, but do almost nothing to prevent more children from having to work for a living. As an example, she points to the policies that have formalized groups like Working Children and Adolescents (NNATS), which are not yet widely known.

Yuherqui Guaimaro, a researcher for CENDIF, explained that the exact scope of the issue is unknown. Research center workers believe that official estimates are often inaccurate, because they don’t take into account the most vulnerable segments of the population, who generally live in the most inaccessible areas.

As an example, Guaimaro and López cite the government’s claim in 2005 that the country had eradicated illiteracy. However, in the poorest communities of Caracas, which both experts visit regularly with CENDIF, the alleged success of the government’s literacy programs was nowhere to be seen. Consequently, the census of 2011 revealed that 4.9 percent of the adult population remained illiterate. “We estimate that the actual rate could be double that,” Guaimaro said.

Conditions Worsening for Child Rights

Alí Poveda, director of ATRAEM. : Staff de PanAm Post
Alí Poveda, director of ATRAEM (PanAm Post staff).

Within the context of World Day Against Child Labour, Guy Rider, general director of the ILO, said that poverty and the inability for families in Venezuela to generate income are catalysts for child labor.

In this sense, the CENDIF experts warned that data regarding current levels of violence, dropout rates, and poor quality of education in Venezuela would lead to an increase in child labor. To put these issues in perspective, Guaimaro explained that 52.3 percent of the poor in Venezuela are children and adolescents. He added that between 1999 and 2006, murder rates among minors increased from 13 to 24 per 100 thousand inhabitants.

Alí Poveda, an ILO consultant in Venezuela and director of the Association of Entrepreneur Workers and Microentrepreneurs (ATRAEM), said that 1,790,000 people became poor in the country in 2013, which is equivalent to 6.1 percent of the population. He also pointed out that 200,000 employers have closed their doors, and that during the first two quarters of 2014, economic growth was only 1 and 0.5 percent, respectively.

He said that the real value of the minimum wage has fallen gradually in recent years, and that inflation in 2014 would close at 120 percent. All this, coupled with a drop in the student population — from a historic 97 percent to 93 percent — contributes to the group’s conclusion that thousands of children could potentially join the labor force. Furthermore, they say this will likely lead to infringements in national and international regulations which stipulate children must be 14 years of age or older to work, and should not work for more than 6 hours per day.

Lisbeth Cordero, director of ATRAEM, added that ignorance of the law and international conventions on child labor is a big part of the problem. She explained that this state of ignorance contributes to the fact that families, communities, and authorities, allow and even encourage children in conditions of poverty to take inappropriate jobs.

“The lack of official figures contribute to hide this reality, and we aim to raise awareness about the negative aspects of child labor, since the ones affected by this problems are usually the poorest. A few days ago, in Catia (a working class neighborhood in ​​Caracas), we were told that children sell liquor and candy next to the CICPC (forensic police) headquarters. This is just one example of the government’s failure to prevent this evil,” said Cordero.

Translated by Alan Furth.

Elisa Vásquez Elisa Vásquez

Elisa Vásquez is a Venezuelan journalist with experience covering social and community topics. Her specialty is human rights education and international solidarity. She reports from Panama City. Follow her on Twitter @elisavasquez88.