Bolivian child labor laws increase awareness of issues

By November 14, 2014
(Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

(Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

Bolivia/Haiti (MNN) — Bolivia’s child labor law seemingly disregards the age protocols put in place by the International Labor Organization’s (ILO).

Now four months old, the practicalities of the law are being revealed. There are some protections included in the law: children between 10 and 12 must be supervised by a parent while they work, children under 12 are not permitted to undertake third-party employment, and children must still attend school.

Bethany Christian Services international services manager Kristi Gleason explains, “Child labor laws are something that we keep an eye on here at Bethany because it affects kids all over the world. Even though we don’t work in Bolivia, child labor is something that we try to address and keep an eye out for in the countries that we do work in.”

(Photo courtesy Bethany Christian Services)

(Photo courtesy Bethany Christian Services)

One obvious problem with Bolivia’s law: how will children, exhausted after a day’s work, be able to engage in learning? Gleason simply says, “They won’t.” She goes on to explain, “The general outcry here is that kids should be in school when they’re 10. They should be having their daily chores to help maintain their home, but they should not be [working] 9-5. In these situations, it’s more than an eight hour day of work. There are concerns about the child’s right to education, their right to their childhood.”

Bethany doesn’t currently have work in Bolivia, but Gleason says they’re watching this law carefully. “Once a precedent is set and one country is doing something, then other countries tend to say, ‘Well, if Bolivia is doing it, then perhaps we can do it, as well.'”

Haiti is Bethany’s closest project to Bolivia, and the poverty conditions there could make a Bolivia law attractive. “I think it’s been pretty clear that there is a problem with child labor in Haiti. The situation with children in restavec, basically, children in domesticity, is rife in Haiti, and it’s something that Bethany has been working to end for several years, now.”

The term restavec is a derivation from French reste avec, “one who stays with.” It refers to a child who is sent by his or her parents to work for a host household as a domestic servant because the parents lack the resources required to support the child. Gleason says Bethany’s approach is to get in front of the problem in order to prevent it. “The question becomes, ‘How can you come around a family and help strengthen the family so that child labor isn’t an issue?'” Gleason adds, “Really, the answer to a child labor law is to come in and create programs that help to strengthen families so that the children aren’t at risk of being put into a situation where they have to drop out of school.”

(Photo courtesy Bethany Christian Services)

(Photo courtesy Bethany Christian Services)

Bethany put that plan to work in Haiti because of the country’s vulnerability to child labor and some of the pitfalls that accompany it. “We have several different activities going on in Haiti, but one is a family preservation program.” In this program, Gleason says, “We are coming around families that are living in tent cities and helping them to get out of the tent cities. [We] give them tools and resources and training so that they can become sustainable so their children can stay in school.”

It starts with followers of Christ. Bethany is called to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus Christ to vulnerable children and families around the world. In so doing, the door opens for the Gospel. Gleason explains that “local churches are usually one of our first contact points in a country, so we are either training church members or we’re training pastors, and then we use that large group of believers to either provide respite care for kids or be potential foster families.”

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