Bolivian ten-year-olds: The youngest legal workers in the world

Noah Friedman-Rudovsky for the Wall Street Journal

Noah Friedman-Rudovsky for the Wall Street Journal

“Stand up for the poor and the orphan; advocate for the rights of the afflicted and those in need.” Psalm 82:3

by Jill Sherman, Women of Vision Columbia-Willamette

Growing up in Bolivia, Evo Morales, lived in poverty. To help his family, he sold ice cream, laid bricks, herded llamas. Now he is the president of his country. It is a wonderful success story, but it comes on the back of the country’s widespread use of child labor.

Because Morales himself rose from poverty and knowing that nearly half the population are still there, he backed a new law that lowers the legal working age to ten! It went into effect this past July.
The thought is that since children are working anyway, why not have them registered and then better protected. Even the children lobbied to have this bill passed. However, to register, there must be regional child advocacy offices, and they are few and far between. Even then, few children enroll and there is not enough staff to follow up. Inspections at work sites are infrequent and children are sometimes working in hazardous environments such as:

• Brick factories where toxic fumes are common and heavy loads need to be moved by young, developing bodies
• Cutting sugar cane with machetes
• Harvesting heavy Brazil nut pods which can fall onto unsuspecting heads

But even safer work keeps children out of school and continues the cycle of poverty, despite the rare exception like the country’s president. Children often really want to help their families and are willing to work, but that is not a decision for young ones to make. They need to dream and have a hope and a future.

Our work with the World Vision Bolivia Women’s Entrepreneurial and Gender Equality Project is striving to improve family income and equity so that children will no longer have to work.

In a country where a child’s wages can literally mean the difference between a family surviving or not, our initial appalled reaction must be tempered with realistic solutions and a great deal of prayer. Our continued support of World Vision is certainly one of those solutions.

May God find us truly faithful.

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