* Written by Daniel Alonso Soto
Today, June 12th, the World Day Against Child Labor is celebrated, which this year focuses on highlighting the importance of social protection to keep children out of child labor. This made me realize how fortunate I’ve been. I was able to grow up and complete my studies, having to focus on nothing more than merely learning, playing, and thinking of what I would like to become when I grew up. Without a doubt, if the circumstances had been different, I would not be in this privileged position in which I find myself today, the same one that allows me to write this blog.
My fortune relates to the fact that I was born in a country where child labor is an anecdotal problem. Similarly, I was born to a family that, although with great effort and the help of scholarships, was able to support me to study until achieving a Doctoral Degree in Economics.
However, not every child, not even in my own country Spain, but particularly in other regions of the world such as Latin America and the Caribbean, has the same luck:
- On average, 5.7% of children between ages 10 and 14 are working, and 31% of them do not go to school.
- In adolescents between 15 and 17 years, on average, the percentage increases to 18.7% and more than 50% of them have already dropped out.
- There are differences by country, household income, and by urban and rural areas. Percentages are higher in countries such as Bolivia, Paraguay, and Honduras where, in groups of low income and rural areas, they can be as high as 40% (from ages 10 to 14).
Besides, we should bear in mind that these numbers do not account for domestic labor, which is predominately carried out by girls, or for those jobs related to illicit activities.
What are the causes and consequences of child labor?
Although there are several reasons, poverty is the main source of child labor. How are poverty, education, and child labor related? By the so-called “poverty cycle.”
Poor children generally have fewer resources to pay for school, books, clothing, transportation, nutrition, and health. In addition, they need to contribute to the household economy and help provide for their siblings. Thus, a significant amount of children from disadvantaged socio-economic conditions begin to work before the age of 15. Many of them are capable of working and studying simultaneously, but others are not able to do so and, ultimately, they abandon school. Moreover, it is common that sooner or later these children will lose their jobs, falling outside of both the education system and the labor market with little opportunity for rejoining. Since these children do not acquire the skills necessary to be part of the workforce, they contribute to the perpetuation of this condition in their future families, maintaining the poverty cycle, and repeating their parents’ experience.
Thanks to the recent IDB publication Disconnected, we know that although there is a disconnection between skills demanded by the labor market and those acquired by children, the higher the level of education, the higher the wages, the greater the work stability, and the smaller the probability of being unemployed. At the same time, in an increasingly globalized world in which 2 out of 3 jobs by 2020 will require post-secondary education, abandoning school at an early age will have even greater and more serious consequences in the future.
What can be done and how does the IDB contribute?
For several years, many countries have implemented Conditional Cash Transfer Programs (CCTs) to fight against child labor. In fact, recent studies from 2009 and 2012 show how CCTs have helped reduce it in several countries such as Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, and Nicaragua. However, what happens with children that have already abandoned school? To facilitate their reincorporation and allow them to finish their studies, Flexible Education Programs play a fundamental role. These are currently expanding to various countries, facilitating the combination of work and study.
Although the situation today is better than it was a decade ago, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Governments and institutions like the IDB are working in this direction by supporting the implementation of CCTs in different countries and stimulating the use of Flexible Education Programs. In the Education Division, we are working every day to guarantee a future in which every child has the same opportunities that I once had, and in which they can dedicate their childhood to growing up and becoming better educated and productive citizens.
Acknowledgements: I want to thank Hugo Ñopo and Katherina Hruskovec for their feedback and valuable help in editing this article.
*Daniel Alonso Soto is a consultant for the Education Division and he is currently involved in projects related to school-to-work transition. He previously worked in the Labor Markets Division and the Office of Evaluation and Oversight. He joined the IDB from the University of Oviedo, where he was a teacher and researcher. Daniel holds a Masters in Economics and Finance and a PhD in Applied Economics from the University of Navarra.