Cablegate: Worst Forms of Child Labor 2004 Update

Published: Wed 4 Aug 2004 01:58 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
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1. In 2002, the Ministry of Labor estimated that 7.1 percent
of children ages 5 to 14 were working in Argentina. Such
statistics have not been updated to reflect the severity and
consequences of the 2001 economic crisis. According to the
Minister of Health, there are more children than adults
living in poverty. An estimated 75 percent of Argentine
children come from poor homes. Despite the lack of updated
labor statistics, CONAETI estimated in June 2004 that up to
1.5 million children, or 23% of the child population are
child laborers. The rate is believed to be higher in rural
than urban areas.
2. The GOA has been a member of ILO-IPEC since 1996 and has
two principle agencies that deal with child labor issues: 1)
the National Commission for the Eradication of Child Labor
(CONAETI) and 2) the National Council for Childhood,
Adolescence, and Family (CONNAF). CONAETI was established in
August 2000 to evaluate and coordinate efforts to prevent and
eradicate child labor. In 2002, CONAETI established a
National Plan for the Prevention and Elimination of Child
Labor. Until May 2003, the United Nations Development
Program (UNDP) also provided support to the Argentine
Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security and CONAETI
for their efforts to eradicate child labor.
3. CONNAF, on the other hand, has begun conducting awareness
raising activities on the rights of children and the sexual
abuse of children, and in 2000-2001 provided training to
government officials on issues such as commercial sexual
exploitation of children. Since that time, it has worked
with local governments and NGOs to support a National Network
of Children's Rights Offices, which coordinates services for
and protects the rights of at-risk children. CONNAF has also
established a program to coordinate national efforts with
regional MERCOSUR partners to address the commercial sexual
exploitation of children. Together with the Attorney
General, the Ministry of Justice, Security and Human Rights,
the National Council of Women, and UNICEF, CONNAF also
developed an action plan for the elimination of child
prostitution. The GOA is involved in the planning and
management of a 2-year ILO-IPEC project to combat child labor
in rural areas and a 1-year ILO-IPEC project to eradicate
child labor among street workers and garbage pickers in
Buenos Aires, both initiated in 2002.
4. In September 2003, CONAETI began a national child labor
survey with technical assistance from ILO-IPEC,s SIMPOC that
will be completed December 2004. In April 2004, the GOA, the
ILO, and the Sub-Secretariat of Technical Programming and
Labor Studies of the Minister of Labor, Employment, and
Social Security announced their plans to conduct another
survey on child labor-related activities in Argentina. The
survey will encompass Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Jujuy, Salta,
and Tucuman in the Northwest and Chaco and Formosa in the
Northeast. As a result of child labor increasing in urban
environments, this is the first survey that involves the same
number of urban and rural zones.
5. In addition, the GOA, along with ILO-IPEC, the other
MERCOSUR governments, and the Government of Chile, developed
a 2002-2004 regional plan to combat child labor by agreeing
to develop a regional strategy, build capacity to prevent and
eradicate child labor, and analyze and share information on
the problem. The plan includes a commission for child
labor-related issues in addition to a regional graphic
campaign with the ILO.
6. Graphic and information campaigns are key to the GOA's
general plan to combat and prevent child labor. In April and
November 2003, IPEC approved the financing of graphic and
information campaigns throughout the country. Through
advertising on radio, television, and in newspapers, the GOA
hopes to raise public awareness of child labor. CONAETI
believes that the future of the fight against child labor is
public involvement. In May 2004, the Carlos Carella Theater
in Buenos Aires held a performance to inform the public about
the causes and consequences of child labor followed by a
forum conducted by government officials.
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7. Child labor in urban zones is a recent phenomenon dating
back to the 1990s that has increased following the 2001
economic crisis. Children work in urban sectors such as
trash recycling, street sales, begging, shoe shining,
domestic labor, in small and medium businesses, small-scale
garment production, food preparation, and brickwork. Street
laborers, or cartoneros, are most visible. In March 2004,
the ex-Minister of Labor accused the courts of legalizing the
labor (prohibited by Law 20.744) of 1,700 Buenos Aires
adolescent cartoneros. Her investigation revealed that these
children worked nights collecting trash on the streets
instead of attending school. The number of cartoneros has
increased since the 2001 meltdown with 8,153 people working
in Buenos Aires, 16.9 percent being under 18 years of age.
Before the economic crisis, there was an estimated 1,600
children working the streets of Buenos Aires. In 2004, the
Council of Child and Adolescent Rights studied five sectors
of Buenos Aires and found there to be 1,350 children working
on the streets. This number extrapolated to include the
entire city is approximately 2,700 children. This statistic
does not reflect the children in Buenos Aires who are working
in the domestic sector.
8. Domestic labor is another sector in which an increasing
number of children have begun to work since the 2001 crisis.
However, it is difficult to measure and regulate given that
it takes place within the privacy of the home. The GOA often
has to rely on schools to report incidents of child
exploitation as domestic labor because it is an invisible
sector. In 2004, 150 cases of child domestic labor have been
reported by the Buenos Aires schools to the Council of Child
and Adolescent Rights.
9. Children in Argentina are also involved in prostitution,
pornography, sex tourism, and drug trafficking, but precise
statistics are unavailable. In early 2003, the GOA first
became a participant in a two-year ILO-IPEC regional project
to prevent and eliminate commercial sexual exploitation of
children in the Tri-Border area. This issue is particularly
relevant in 2004 because it is the first year that Argentina
was included in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. Luz
de Infancia is one of the programs in the Tri-Border Area
that focuses on combating and preventing child sexual
10. CONAETI approved another project in 2003 to address
child labor in urban areas. The national urban plan is
pursued through local projects and organizations that are
financially supported by the GOA. Although lacking a
comprehensive prevention policy, the urban plan does consist
of a network of information campaigns, outreach, and child
victim identification in the city of Buenos Aires. By
offering such services ranging from health to education to
recreation, Buenos Aires aims to provide its youth with a
social welfare system that will increase their civic
awareness and participation, thereby protecting them from
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11. Child labor has traditionally been more prevalent in
rural zones, where children perform agriculture-related labor
concerned with tea, tobacco, tomatoes, strawberries, and
flowers. The national rural program consists of three
stages: 1) providing compensation and training to parents to
increase their economic levels so that they can take their
children out of the labor sector and ensure their long-term
enrollment and attendance in school; 2) a social dialogue
table as part of the commission of the province of Misiones
for various organizations, companies, and public officials;
and 3) an ILO-approved child labor investigation in San
Vicente in Misiones. A coordination unit evaluates the
progress and continuity of the rural program.
12. Provincial governments are also working to combat child
labor primarily through cooperation with UNICEF to raise
awareness of the importance of education and promote family
and community involvement in educational design; and provide
alternative income opportunities for families of child
laborers so they can attend school. The Inter-American
Development Bank provided a loan to the GOA in 2001 aimed at
supporting the provinces in improving the quality, equity and
efficiency of the education system, thereby promoting
increased future employment opportunities for young people
from poor families. The GOA has also received funding from
the World Bank to reform the third cycle of basic education
(grades seven to nine) in Buenos Aires Province.
13. In April 2004, an agreement to create specialized
commissions in each province was signed by the Ministry of
Labor, the National Commission for the Eradication of Child
Labor, the Federal Council of Labor, as well as by the
provinces of Buenos Aires, Entre Rios, Corrientes, Misiones,
Tucuman, Jujuy, Catamarca, La Rioja, Mendoza, Rio Negro,
Pampa, and Salta. Eleven provinces did not sign the
agreement: Formosa, Chaco, Santiago del Estero, Cordoba,
Santa Fe, San Luis, San Juan, Neuquen, Chubut, Santa Cruz,
and Tierra del Fuego. Concerns have been raised over the
efficacy of the provincial commissions since the degree of
child labor and resources to combat it vary from one province
to the next. In June, CONAETI and MERCOSUR announced a joint
campaign with the provincial commissions to combat child
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14. Education is free and compulsory in Argentina for 10
years, beginning at age 5. In 2000, the gross primary
enrollment rate was 120.1 percent, and the net primary
enrollment rate was 107.5 percent. According to a government
survey in 2001, 99.1 percent of children ages 6 to 12
attended school, and 97.2 percent of children ages 13 to 14
attended school. In 1999, 90.3 percent of children who
enrolled in primary school in Argentina reached grade five
suggesting that continuing enrollment is most relevant to the
issue of child labor. Therefore, some serious educational
problems persist.
15. Access to schooling is limited in some rural areas of
the country. Enrollment has become a greater issue in both
the urban and rural areas since the 2001 economic crisis as
children have dropped out of school to work and help support
their families. In particular, poverty and school desertion
have been prevalent in the indigenous communities. In July,
the Education Ministry announced the establishment of a
bilingual program in at least 1,000 of the 2,500 schools
throughout the country that have indigenous students. This
program is to prevent the desertion of students belonging to
the Wichi, Mapuche, Toba, Mocovi, Kolla, Guarani, and Pilaga
communities. The program will also include scholarships to
be distributed to 5,000 indigenes.
16. The social inclusion of children is also needed
throughout the remainder of the country to protect them from
exploitation. One out of every five adolescents from the
Buenos Aires province between the ages of 14 and 21 does not
go to school, and one million live below the poverty line,
according to the Ministry of Human Development. Up to 12,000
do not know how to read or write. The Ministry emphasizes
that it is the responsibility of the state to advance the
social inclusion of these adolescents through educational
programs in the provinces.
17. Therefore, in May 2004, the Ministry of Human
Development announced a program that will give out 20,000
scholarships to such adolescents. Proyecto Adolescentes will
distribute 20,000 scholarships of 150 pesos per month for one
year to send these adolescents to school. In July, President
Kirchner announced a new program directed at the one million
18-25 year old Argentines who neither work nor study and are
considered the most vulnerable and most critical socially
marginalized group. This program, administered through the
Ministry of Social Development, will provide the young adults
with six-month job placements or scholarships of 100 pesos
per month. The IDB is providing 30 million pesos in
financial support of this initiative.
18. The Law on Labor Contracts (No. 20.744) sets the minimum
age for employment at 14 years. Children of legal working
age, however, are prohibited from entering employment if they
have not completed compulsory education, which normally ends
at age 15. Children who are under the age of 14 may work
only in businesses where family members are employed, as long
as the work is not dangerous to them. Children ages 14 to 18
are prohibited from working more than 6 hours a day and 36
hours a week and must present medical certificates that
attest to their ability to perform such work. If permission
is obtained from administrative authorities, however,
children ages 16 to 18 may work 8 hours a day and 48 hours a
week. Children under the age of 18 are prohibited from
working between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. and from
engaging in work that could endanger their safety, health or
moral integrity.
19. Slavery and the facilitation of the prostitution of
children, trafficking of children into or out of Argentina
for prostitution, and pornography are also prohibited. As
previously mentioned, the sexual exploitation of minors
persists. One example is a case of prostitution in the city
of Buenos Aires.
20. Two women were arrested in the Buenos Aires neighborhood
of Caballito in June 2004 for prostituting a fifteen-year old
girl who suffered from tuberculosis as a result of
malnutrition and exploitation. The women would often offer
food, shelter, and work to young girls without family or who
just arrived from the country's interior. After initially
being offered employment as domestics in Buenos Aires
households, the girls were forced into prostitution. The
women are currently awaiting trial in Buenos Aires in
violation of the Law of Profilaxis Venerea and for the
corruption of minors.
21. Other forms of child labor are dealt with by the
Ministry of Labor, which has authority over employers and
imposes sanctions on the abusers on a case-by-case basis. In
January 2000, the GOA enacted a federal law that establishes
a unified regime of sanctions for the infringement of labor
laws, but child labor laws are still enforced on a provincial
or local basis. Violators of underage employment laws can
receive a fine of USD 278 to USD 1,388 for each child
employed. UNICEF has charged that the commercial sexual
exploitation of children occurs due to police inefficiency
and the failure of the judiciary to intervene. The
Government of Argentina ratified ILO Convention 138 on
November 11, 1996 and ILO Convention 182 on February 5, 2001.
22. While the government has made many recent efforts to
eradicate and prevent child labor, Congress admitted in 2004
that there are not sufficient inspectors or programs
established to detect child exploitation. It also noted the
lack of sanctions against companies that use children to save
money since they receive lower wages. Furthermore, the
Inspection Monitoring Unit, in charge of finding and
responding to incidents of child labor, does not have the
rescue support needed to aid exploited children. The
government, the ILO, and labor specialists admitted in 2004
that one of the principal obstacles to combating and
preventing child labor is the cultural perspective upheld in
Argentina. Many people believe that child labor is not
harmful to the health and development of the child. That is
why CONAETI reiterates the need of public awareness and
involvement in the future campaign against child labor.
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