Child Labor in Brazil and Uruguay
Summary and Keywords
The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 12.5 million children and adolescents under the age of fifteen currently working in Latin America and the Caribbean. Of these, 9.6 million (77%) perform tasks that pose a risk to their physical and psychological health. This article presents a brief comparative analysis of child labor in Brazil and Uruguay in order to discuss the challenges of confronting this phenomenon in two very different countries that have embraced divergent strategies to deal with similar problems. To do this, the article presents an overview of the incidence of child labor in Brazil and Uruguay and seeks to demonstrate how far the category of labor is from a universal definition in the academic world, which is also repeated in the debate on the definition of child labor. It is possible to identify different moments of the debate in Latin America regarding the concept of child labor. Some approaches have been more contextualized than others, but all remain controversial and are sometimes considered incomplete. It will also consider the changes in the world of labor and how they interfere in this phenomenon. Despite advances in the fight against child labor overall, Brazil is starting to stagnate in its efforts to reduce the number of child and adolescent workers, and its challenge is to find new political solutions to address this problem. Uruguay still needs to place the issue more centrally on the nation’s political and social agenda in order to guarantee consistent research on the problem that can guide its policy responses.
Although it is debated in various parts of the world, there is no global consensus on the various aspects, concepts, and dimensions of child labor. There are a number of elements to this debate that must factor into any discussion of the problem and its solutions, including cultural and symbolic factors, economic interests, social class differences, social inequities, political orientations, religious influences, etc.
Different initiatives by civil society organizations, international entities and national governments also seek to intervene on this matter in various ways, either for the eradication of child labor in the world, or to mitigate its effects by pursuing cultural and/or economic conciliation. Working children and adolescents have always been present in the history of Western societies, and the incidence of child labor is related to the world of labor and, above all, to the meaning of labor throughout the course of history.
In order to better express the similarities and differences of child labor in different contexts, this article will present a brief comparative analysis between two countries of the Southern Cone, Brazil and Uruguay. This comparison will allow us to explore how countries with such different population, territorial, and economic dimensions can present similar situations and, at the same time, opt for such different policy approaches. The article addresses concepts of child labor in both countries and their general characteristics based on statistical data and studies on the matter.
Brazil and Uruguay share a border, although they have distinct languages due to Spanish colonization in Uruguay and Portuguese in Brazil. This proximity often allows Uruguayan and Brazilian children to attend school together on either side of the border. At the border, many habits, traditions, and customs merge, generating an intense cultural exchange, although there are enduring attempts to demarcate cultural identities.1 According to the 2011 census, conducted by Uruguay’s National Institute of Statistics (2011), Uruguay has a population of 3,286,314, with a territorial area of 176,215 km².2 In Brazil, the annual survey conducted by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics counted 207.7 million inhabitants in 2017, with a territorial area of 8,515,692,272 km².3 According to the World Bank, Uruguay’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in 2016 was US$52.42 million, while Brazil’s reached US$1.796 trillion that same year.4 According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), in Latin America and the Caribbean there are 12.5 million children and adolescents under the age of fifteen currently working. Of these, 9.6 million (77%) carry out tasks that pose a risk to their physical and psychological health and 6.7 million are in agricultural activities. The Southern Cone accounts for 38% of child labor in the region.5
The main ILO statutes on child labor are Convention 138, which sets the minimum age for employment, and Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor. In January 2017, 169 of the 187 ILO member countries had adopted Convention 138, and 180 countries ratified Convention 182.6 Both Brazil and Uruguay ratified these Conventions. Uruguay adopted Convention 138 on November 30, 1976, well before Brazil, which ratified it only on February 15, 2002.7 Brazil ratified Convention 182 on September 12, 2000, and Uruguay ratified it on August 3, 2001.8 Convention 138 was implemented in June 1976 and was soon ratified by Uruguay. Brazil, for its part, has long delayed adopting Convention 138, despite the fact that social movements that defend the rights of children in Brazil demand its approval.
In 1992, the ILO established the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, which has so far been adopted in 88 countries.9 Both Brazil and Uruguay signed on, which commits them to meeting certain requirements. Thus, both countries now have a basic structure for the program, set by the IPEC/ILO, which includes: the adaptation of national legislation to conventions 138 and 182, and the commitment to implement policies to eradicate child labor and protect adolescent workers, with an emphasis on eliminating the worst abuses and gradually raising the minimum age for employment. The latter was set at fifteen or not less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling. Finally, countries should create a National Committee or Commission to Combat Child Labor, managed by representatives of workers, employers, government officials, and organized civil society.10
Before presenting an overview of the incidence of child labor in Brazil and Uruguay, we will discuss how this category of labor has so far eluded consensus in the academic world, which is also repeated in the debate on the definition of child labor.
The aim is to establish the basis for a discussion on child labor in Brazil and Uruguay from a comparative perspective. Is it possible to talk about child labor in the same sense in different contexts? How does each country act in the face of this enduring problem?
It is important to point out that this article will address some general aspects related to child labor in Brazil and Uruguay, so it is quite synthetic and selective in its approach and, therefore, is subject to some explanatory limitations.
Labor, What Labor?
The Western tradition of thought has approached the topic of labor through a constellation of perspectives, from those that see it as an essential element in the study of societies to those who proclaim the end of its centrality in explaining current social dynamics.11 Although at first glance the term labor seems to refer simply to one of the forms of human activity, its content and its meaning vary across time.
According to the classic Marxist perspective, labor plays a central role in societies. The way human beings organize themselves through work to reproduce life is the basis of all social relations. This means that the entire organization of society, from its way of thinking, its consciousness, its institutions, and so on, stem from material relations. For Karl Marx, labor is indispensable to the existence of man, “independent of all forms of society; it is an eternal necessity which mediates the metabolism between man and nature, and therefore human life itself.”12
For her part, Hannah Arendt addressed the distinction between the meanings of labor and drudgery, expressing a particular perspective on the category of work in Marx. The author viewed drudgery as one of the fundamental human activities, along with labor and action. In her work The Human Condition, the author considered this distinction inappropriate, since modern theories of labor did not expound upon this valence of the term.13
In ancient Greece, drudgery was associated with a situation of wanting, of submission of man to his needs for survival, “to an impatience no less strong than every effort that left no trace, any monument, any great work worthy of being remembered . . .”14
The Greeks’ contempt for drudgery was based on the idea that it was a servile act, submitting itself to the needs of the body.
It is important to point out that in Portuguese, the words labor (drudgery) and trabalho (labor) express both the act of accomplishing something durable that grants social recognition as well as carrying out an activity that requires effort, something routine, repetitive, and relatively unfree. Labor is both a source of dignity and a value in itself, and also a source of suffering, exploitation, and submission. This is why the topic of child labor generates such controversy: because it touches upon symbolic issues that guide any discussion of work in Brazil and Uruguay.
According to Arendt, the “theoretical glorification” of work is a product of the modern era, transforming society into a society of workers.15 The author saw in technological innovation the possibility of “liberation” from work, something that societies throughout history have longed for and that was the privilege of a few. Scientific advances and automation would empty the factories and free “humanity from its oldest and most natural burden, the burden of labor and subjection to necessity.” But she concluded that this is an illusion, since the advancement of science carried with it the exaltation of work.
The contrast between Arendt’s notion of labor and Marx’s perspective reveals the theoretical complexity of the debate over work, and this is also manifested in society, in the permanent process of life’s reproduction. Labor is not the same for everyone, nor does it occur under the same conditions. It is not carried out by all indiscriminately, and the age for entry into the world of work varies culturally and according to social class.
Arendt suggests that Marx did not distinguish between labor, drudgery, and action, and, moreover, in his fascination with the productive capacity of the modern Western world, he confused homo laborans and homo faber.
For Marx, labor was a mediating force between man and nature, making humans into social beings. Based on his analysis of concrete work relations, Marx created a meticulous survey of 19th-century capitalist society, identifying and revealing different facets of work, its influence and complexity in various societies and in the lives of individuals. He also pointed out that social relations are based on the relations of production, since, in producing, men interact not only with nature, but also with one another.16
In addition to producing goods, labor also transforms itself and the worker into a commodity. The system forges a relationship between the worker and his product. Men come to be dominated by objects, and the consciousness of the worker is left at the mercy of the relations of production. This perspective endures in today’s society of mass production, defined by the flexibilization of labor and productive restructuring.17
Indeed, some sociologists posit that the category of labor is no longer central to the life of individuals. Academic production has reflected this shift, increasingly basing its analyses of social reality on categories like gender, age, family status, ethnicity, among others, instead of occupation.18 However, Ricardo Antunes argues that, despite the great changes that have taken place in the world of labor, this still remains a relevant category of analysis since there still exists a “class that lives off its labor” and there is no realistic prospect that it will disappear anytime soon. It would thus be premature to assume that work has lost its centrality when societies still depend on the production of goods.19
David Harvey’s analysis of the changes in Western capitalism at the end of the 20th century show that beyond the evidence of transformations in the processes of labor, consumption habits, the role of the state, and also in geopolitical configurations, societies have preserved “profit-seeking production . . . as the basic organizing principle of economic life.”20
Such transformations in contemporary capitalism have produced several overlapping processes, from the deproletarianization of industrial labor, which has whittled down the traditional working class, to an increase in the service sector, making the landscape of work more heterogeneous. There has been a “subproletarianization of labor, present in the forms of precarious, partial, temporary, subcontracted, and ‘outsourced’ labor, linked to the informal economy, among so many existing modalities.”21
Antunes summarizes the circumstances in Latin America, where work is still a central consideration. Faced with this fact, repercussions in the social, political, economic, and cultural realms are inevitable. The issue of child labor is a part of this broader context. What are the chances for the social and cultural development of children and adolescents inserted in the world of work in the current situation if, even for adults, the prospects are not promising?
Conceptions of Child Labor in Brazil and Uruguay
According to analysis by Defence for Children International, there have been distinctive moments regarding the conception of child labor in Latin America.22 At one point, the debate centered on defining activities that could humanely be carried out by children and adolescents, that is, a normative and prohibitive stage. The discussion eventually moved on to defining the types of labor that should be prohibited, giving rise to dichotomous classifications, such as “educational work,” “intolerable forms of child labor,” and “worst forms of child labor.” These definitions, which relativize and posit the possibility of tolerable and non-tolerable forms of child labor, demonstrate contradictions in the attempt to define the problem. This kind of discussion is wrongheaded, since what would be the dividing line between the tolerable and the intolerable? This duality makes it difficult to define public policies and opens itself up to subjective interpretations, allowing for confused and insufficient action.
In Brazil, children and adolescents are barred from working at night and from carrying out tasks considered dangerous or insalubrious. Those under the age of 16 cannot be employed at all, except as a trainee, which they can beginning at 14.23 In Uruguay, the Children and Adolescents’ Code (Código de la Niñez y Adolescencia) (Law No. 17.823, article 162) sets the minimum age for employment at 15. There is also a small difference in the way both countries define children and adolescents. In Brazil, children are defined as anyone up to their twelfth birthday and adolescents are those between the ages of 12 and their eighteenth birthday, according to the Statute of the Child and Adolescent (Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente, or ECA) (Law 8069/90), article 2. In Uruguay, children are defined as individuals up to 13 years of age and adolescents as those over 13 and under 18 years of age, according to article 1 of the Children and Adolescents Code.
As for the definition of child labor in Brazil, the parameters are as follows:
economic activities and/or survival activities, whether for profit or not, paid or not, carried out by children or adolescents under the age of 16 (sixteen) years, subject to the condition of a trainee from the age of 14 (fourteen) regardless of their occupational status. For the protection of the adolescent worker, all work performed by a person between the ages of 16 and 18 years and, as an apprentice, from 14 to 18 years, as defined by Constitutional Amendment no. 20, of December 15, 1998.24
This conception was formulated by the National Commission for the Eradication of Child Labor (Comissão Nacional de Erradicação do Trabalho Infantil, or CONAETI), a public entity linked to the Ministry of Labor and Employment. Policies and programs for the eradication of child labor are required to follow this definition. This applies both to government agencies and civil society organizations.
In the case of Uruguay, the National Committee for the Eradication of Child Labor (Comité Nacional para la Erradicación del Trabajo Infantil, CETI) defined the matter as:
Any activity involving the participation of children in the production and marketing of goods or in the provision of services to individuals or juridical persons that prevent access, performance, and permanence in education or is performed in hazardous environments, produce immediate or future negative effects, or are carried out under conditions that affect the psychological, physical, moral or social development of children.25
The Brazilian definition is more detailed, with employment permitted between the ages of 14 and 16 years as a trainee and expressly prohibited before 14. The Constitution allows for apprenticeships in article 7, item XXXIII, and in the ECA, article 60. In addition to these provisions there is a law specifically relating to apprenticeships, Law 10.097/2000, which allows medium and large companies to hire young people between the ages of 14 and 24. The employment contract can last up to two years on the condition that the young person is instructed at a training institution and in the company itself, combining theoretical and practical experience with compulsory attendance at school.
In Uruguay, legislation permits employment if authorization is secured from the Institute of Children and Adolescents of Uruguay (Instituto del Niño y Adolescente del Uruguay, INAU), as is the case with article 162 of the Childhood and Adolescence Code which, in addition to setting 15 as the minimum age for employment, allows for employment with some exceptions on the grounds of the greater interest of the child and the adolescent. Article 165 establishes that INAU shall review work permits for adolescents between the ages of 13 and 15 and that temporary work will be allowed providing it does not jeopardize physical, mental, and social development and school attendance.26
Although legislation prohibits a workload of more than six hours per day and night work, the INAU may authorize a workday of eight hours for adolescents between 16 and 18 and night work with prior technical evaluation, taking into account the greater interest of the adolescent. On the other hand, Law 11.577, article 14, prohibits unhealthy activities for those under 21, while in Brazil the age limit is 18.
In Brazil, although legislation prohibits employment for those under 14 and as of that age only as an apprentice, there is still an enduring practice of issuing judicial authorizations for children and adolescents to work. It is a way that judges, employers, and family members have found to circumvent the law. According to MTE data, in 2011 alone, 181 court authorizations were issued to children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 13. Between 2005 and 2011, approximately 33,000 judicial authorizations were issued in all Brazilian states, including permits for work in hazardous and unhealthy areas such as dumps and fertilizer plants.27
Also important is the fact that the definition used by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) in its research does not classify all work performed by children and adolescents as child labor:
Not all children and adolescents engaged in productive activities are involved in child labor. The latter refers to prohibited forms of work that must be eliminated because they are mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous to children and adolescents or because they interfere with their education.28
This notion of child labor was used in the country’s most recent research, guided by the Resolution on Child Labor Statistics, adopted by the ILO in December 2008, which sets the basis for the classification of jobs carried out by children and adolescents. The clarifying point, which holds “that a child or adolescent performs economic activities does not necessarily imply that he is a child laborer,” is key here.29 In Brazil, such differentiation did not appear in the official documents consulted. Instead, there is a tendency to affirm what the phenomenon is, and there is no concern about clarifying possible exceptions.
The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) also takes into account the ILO's Resolution on Statistics on Child Labor, but the definition it employs is the following: children and adolescents up to 13 years in any type of work; adolescents aged 14 and 15 working in economic activities that do not entail training or specialization; adolescents aged 16 and 17 in the worst forms of work, including night work; unpaid domestic service (countries may consider duration of household chores or dangerous household chores).30
Although Brazil and Uruguay have adopted ILO Conventions 138 and 182 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, there are some nuances in their respective understandings of child labor. Although there are international debates and conventions on the matter that seek to establish parameters and consensus on the meaning and strategies of coping with this problem, such proposals will inevitably be interpreted in different social spaces.31
International social movements against child labor, like the Global March Against Child Labor, and international organizations such as the ILO and UNICEF, which have sought to eradicate child labor, have succeeded in attracting government and non-governmental definition of child labor as a violation of the human rights of children and adolescents.32 Even so, the concept of child labor and the way of addressing it varies in different contexts.
General Aspects of Child Labor in Brazil and Uruguay
The production of information on child labor through quantitative and qualitative research is fundamental for developing an understanding of the problem and for guiding political actions to be taken by society and the State.
According to Cervini and Burger, broader and more detailed analysis of data from the Census and PNADs (National Household Sample Survey) on the work of children and adolescents in Brazil began in the 1980s.33 From that point on, the IBGE began to produce and disseminate data on working children and teenagers. But only after 2001 did the PNAD start including supplementary research on child labor, covering the age group from 5 to 17 years age and topics of health and safety at work and complementary education.34
Analysis carried out by the National Forum for the Prevention and Eradication of Child Labor (FNPETI) on PNADs indicates that between 1992 and 2013, child labor in Brazil underwent a significant reduction of 59.0% or 4.6 million cases (from 7.8 million in 1992 to 3.2 million in 2013).35
The PNAD 2015 data do not allow for much disaggregation, for which information on race and detail of activities would be helpful. In this way, we will present PNAD 2014 data that have already been disaggregated and allow us to maintain the greatest possible comparability with the situation in Uruguay.
According to the latest data released by the IBGE, in 2015 there were 2.7 million (6.6% of the total of this age group) children and adolescents between 5 and 17 years of age in child labor in Brazil—a reduction of 19.8% compared to 2014, when numbers reached 3.3 million.36 Despite this, the numbers remain high, in addition to a new increase in the age group from 5 to 9 years, going from 61,000 h in 2013 to 70,000 in 2014 and finally to 79,000 in 2015 (12.3% in relation to the previous year).
Of the total number of working children and adolescents, 20.5% are not remunerated. Among the unpaid, 42.8% are between the ages of 5 and 13; 25.4% between 14 and 15 years of age, and 12.7% between 16 and 17.
Child labor is distributed across all regions of the country: Northeastern Region 6.7%; Southeast Region 5.6%; Central-West Region 7.2%; North Region 7.1%; South Region 8.3%. According to the IBGE, there has been a reduction in all regions, but the South remains with the highest percentage.
The most recent data on domestic child labor are from the 2013 PNAD, which estimated that 6.8% of child and adolescent workers were involved in domestic services. In addition, 40.3% of children and adolescents between 5 to 17 years of age performed domestic tasks. And there are also those who worked outside the home and still carried out this type of work, with a rate of 39.2%, effectively constituting a double shift.37
Research on child labor in Uruguay, according to UNICEF, is relatively recent.38 Until 1999, there were no sources of objective and reliable information on the incidence of child labor in the age group below 14 years. An estimate for that year (1999) was made possible by applying a special module of data collection. Since then, however, no more comprehensive surveys have been conducted that could guide analyses of child labor in Uruguay. However, in 2006, a new child labor module was introduced in the National Extended Household Survey (Encuesta Nacional de Hogares Ampliada, or ENHA) through which partial information was collected on economic activities carried out by children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 17. Even so, the 1999 and 2006 surveys were limited by the number of questions. Thus, in March 2009, INE, with the support of the IPEC/ILO’s Statistical Information and Monitoring Programme on Child Labour (SIMPOC), initiated a national research project on child labor. This was carried out between September 2009 and May 2010 and was the first investigation to collect information directly from children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 17.39
The data presented below are part of the aforementioned research. Of the total population of the country, 21% are children and adolescents between 5 and 17 years of age, equivalent to 685.1 thousand people. About 59.9% of this group is in the poorest quintiles, and in rural areas this figure increases to 70%.
The survey found that 85.3% of children and adolescents (584.5 thousand) did not carry out any type of economic activity and also did not perform it in the last 12 months of the survey period; 11.6% were involved some type of economic activity, while 3.1% reported having participated in some economic activity in the last 12 months but not at the time of the survey. At the national level, 15.2% of male children and adolescents performed some economic activity, while 7.7% of girls had. Considering the age group, the highest percentage is found among adolescents between 15 and 17 years of age (29.3%), against 6.1% in the age range of 5 to 14 years.40
In the countryside, about 21% of children and adolescents carried out some economic activity, and the rate was 10.9% for urban areas. The lowest rate of insertion in the workforce was found among girls aged 5 to 14 years living in urban areas (4%).
Work at home was performed by 84.6% (579.5 thousand people) of children and adolescents, consuming about 2.3 hours per week. The main tasks involved organizing one’s bedroom; washing dishes, floors and clothes, and the vast majority reported that they performed the tasks to “help,” “because they want to,” or “because they like to do it.” At the national level, domestic tasks are predominantly carried out by female children and adolescents.
In total, about 9.9% of children and adolescents in Uruguay between the ages of 5 and 17 years of age are involved in child labor, according to the Frontera de Producción del Sistema de Cuentas Nacionales (FPSCN). However, when considering the Frontera General de Producción (FGP), this rate jumps to 13.4%.41 Most, 75%, are in hazardous lines of work. At the national level, the percentage of children and adolescents in hazardous work is 3.2% (5 to 14 years) and 5.3% (15 to 17 years), respectively. According to INE, activities that by their nature or conditions may cause moral or physical damage are considered hazardous work.
The highest incidence of hazardous work is on boys, 12.5%, while it affects about 4.3% of girls. There is also a difference in the rural area and urban area, with the incidence in the rural area almost double the urban area, with 15.9% and 7.9% respectively.
Since the INE does not consider all economic activities carried out by children and adolescents to be child labor, the rates are differentiated, even so the percentage difference between economic activities and child labor is very small, 11.6% and 9.9%, respectively.
The rate of school enrollment for adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17 is 88%, which includes 92% of adolescent girls and 84% of adolescent boys.42 In any case, the data show that child labor negatively affects adolescent performance in school, particularly as it pertains to inclusion, attendance, and overall academic success.
Child Labor in Brazil and Uruguay—Some Considerations
Child labor is a worldwide phenomenon. Different factors shape the configuration of the phenomenon, from economic and social aspects to cultural elements. Among the factors pointed out by the ILO are: poverty, difficult access to quality public education, insufficient socioeconomic policies, lack of information among families on the risks of child labor, and an exclusively positive view of work as a means of social advancement.43
For a better understanding of the phenomenon, and in order to establish political intervention strategies, it is necessary to clarify that the causes are varied and interact differently among the various individuals and groups where they are manifested. The effects on the development of children and adolescents are widely known, such as occupational accidents leading to serious injuries; the fatigue that leads to dropping out of school; psychosomatic problems due to adverse labor relations requiring a lot of responsibility, fulfilling goals, and establishing often conflicting interpersonal relations.
The world of work today is undergoing a series of transformations caused by the flexibilization that characterizes modern capitalism, which also generates a change in the very meaning of labor. Workers are required to be more agile and flexible in order to adapt to short-term changes that do not always align with formal conduct and laws.44 There is a widespread notion that the flexibilization of labor relations will grant workers more freedom and control; in fact, however, as Richard Sennett explains, new complex and technology-mediated forms of control arise as well.45 Such changes interfere with the character of people, because when living in a system that values flexibility in work relations, concerned with the immediate short-term goals, people have difficulty establishing life goals and making enduring commitments.
The current state of labor generates tremendous suffering for adult workers, let alone for children and adolescents. According to Christophe Dejours, work can be a source of suffering and injustice, both for those who are in a job and for the unemployed, making work the “great arena” of suffering.46
As mentioned earlier, Arendt criticized the exaltation of work brought on by modernity, which generated a society of workers.47 Although technological advances seem to usher in a “liberation” from work, they have made it even more central to the lives of individuals. And Marx’s analysis describes the transformation of the worker into a commodity through labor, in addition to the fact that capitalism itself transforms the object of work into a product alien to its creator.48 Marx stresses exploitation in the world of labor and the submission of the worker to the capitalist on whom he depends in order to sell his labor. Therefore, child labor cannot be limited to issues of poverty or survival or cultural patterns, rather it must be considered within the complex world of work that makes this phenomenon something with different aspects that need to be considered when confronting it.
In spite of the differences between Brazil and Uruguay, related to matters of economy, territory, and demography, as well as cultural issues like linguistic differences and cultural inheritances of Uruguayan colonization by the Spaniards, and Portuguese in Brazil, both share the same problem. But, as stated earlier, although we can identify similarities in the manifestation of child labor, we must avoid universalisms that may reduce the capacity for understanding and political intervention.
Surveys on the incidence of child labor in Uruguay are relatively recent and still infrequent, with only three significant surveys in 1999, 2006, and 2009/2010 found among the literature consulted. There may be a number of explanations for this matter to have taken a long time to enter the national political and social agenda, but what can be inferred is that not grasping the scope of the problem, regardless of motives, is a demonstration of the matter’s low priority on the Uruguayan national agenda. In Brazil, on the other hand, information about child labor has been collected for a longer period of time and the data show a significant drop in its occurrence, however, further decisive action on this issue has not been guaranteed. Numbers remain high, with consecutive increases in the last three years for the age group between 5 and 9 years of age. Obviously, understanding the scale of the problem does not necessarily lead to the consolidation of effective policy measures, but the lack of diagnoses may indicate little commitment on the government’s part to tackling the problem.
In Brazil, the topic became more prominent in the 1990s, due to pressures from civil society organizations defending the rights of children and adolescents. Furthermore, the political opening that coincided with the end of the military dictatorship and mobilization around the drafting of the country’s new constitution provided an environment conducive to the claim of children’s rights. In 1992, IPEC began to be implemented in Brazil, inaugurating the program in Latin America, which further contributed to the increase in actions already taken by local organizations and strengthening the demand for the ratification of Convention 138.49
In Uruguay, the issue of child labor gained visibility through the mobilization of local civil society organizations that coordinated with the Global March against Child Labor and enabled the march to be carried out in Uruguay on March 5, 1998. The realization of the March in the country was an important milestone in the articulation of civil society and government organizations to combat child labor. In April 1998, the government convened a national committee for the eradication of child labor, which is non-institutional, composed of sectors of civil society, government, employers, and workers. The official Committee was created by Decree 367/000 of December 2000 and a year earlier in 1999 the Ministry of Labor and Social Security signed on to a Letter of Intent to IPEC/ILO committing to take steps to progressively control, restrict, and prohibit child labor.50
Regarding the countries’ data, one must consider the differences in the collection practices employed in the use of surveys. In Uruguay, an exhaustive survey was conducted between October 2009 and May 2010 on child labor in the country with a much greater level of detail in the data than those collected by PNAD 2015 in Brazil, however, this survey is annual, and works with probabilistic samples, and investigates the general characteristics of the population, such as occupation, education, income, housing, etc. The PNAD 2015 reference week was September 20–26, 2015.51 The Uruguayan survey presents two child labor indices, one based on the Frontera de Producción del Sistema de Cuentas Nacionales (FPSCN) and another considering the Frontera General de Producción (FGP). For the purposes of this paper we will use the FPSCN as reference data.
With regard to the proportion of children and adolescents in child labor in Uruguay and Brazil, Uruguay has a national index higher than that of Brazil, 9.9% according to FPSCN, and 6.6%, respectively.52
The average number of hours worked per week in Brazil was 24.6, and in Uruguay, 16.7 in urban areas and 17 in the countryside.
In both Brazil and Uruguay, the majority of child workers are male. In Brazil, 66% are male, indicating that there are 2 boys for each girl working. In the case of Uruguay, there are 14% of working boys and 5.8% of girls, so the proportion is 2.4 boys for each girl, which suggests a similar proportionality between the two countries. On the other hand, it is important to note that in both countries there is a greater participation of girls in housework. Although statistics provide data on domestic child labor, this field of work remains mostly invisible, making it difficult to characterize its real size and to gauge the participation of female children and adolescents. But it is a fact that domestic child labor has a crucial difference in relation to other forms of child labor, which expresses a gender issue, since there is an implicit view that determines domestic tasks as typical of girls.
In the Uruguayan countryside, 19.7% of children and adolescents from 5 to 17 work, while in urban areas this number drops to 9.2%. In the case of Brazil, although there are no disaggregated data, at present it is observed that of the children who work, 69.2% work in urban areas and 32% work in the countryside. Considering that only 15.2% of the Brazilian population lives in the countryside, it can be inferred that the proportion of working children in the countryside is higher than the proportion of working children in urban centers.53
In Uruguay, the survey provides the average hourly income of working children and adolescents of both sexes, showing that regardless of age, boys receive higher hourly payment than girls, with the average hourly income of boys set at $33.6 (Uruguayan pesos) per hour and girls at $24.2 per hour. The Brazilian surveys did not raise the hourly value obtained in child labor in order to compare with Uruguay. However, it offers us another type of information that refers to the monthly per capita income per household of employed and unemployed children and adolescents. The monthly per capita income per household of children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 17 was estimated at R$630.00 (around US$198.1), while the income for this age group that did not work was R$687 (around $216).54 These data allow us to say that child labor does not contribute significantly to family income as one might imagine. Another piece of data shows that the lower the age the lower the gains, since while in the 16 to 17 age range the average monthly income from work is R$592.00, in the range between 5 and 14 years of age this income falls to R$193. We have previously seen that, in three consecutive years, there has been an increase in the number of children between the ages of 5 and 9 in child labor situations, which suggests that the myth of the child’s contribution to family income endures in Brazil, even as the data show that the gains are very small.
The national rates of school enrollment for adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17 in Brazil and Uruguay are very close, 85% and 88% respectively.55 But, in absolute numbers, the school exclusion of adolescents in this age group in Brazil is at an entirely different level. The 2015 school census pointed out that 1.6 million are out of school. It is a significant number that requires attention to the main drivers of such exclusion, such as not completing elementary education, early pregnancy, early entry into the labor market. Dropping out of school does not happen overnight, but it is a gradual process of withdrawal. The educational system needs to know and understand the profile of the adolescent who leaves school in order to be able to act when faced with this possibility. According to studies carried out by the IBGE and the Ministry of Education, adolescents with the highest risk of becoming school dropouts are those with low income, the majority of whom are black and leave school to work; and adolescent pregnant women. On the other hand, there are also reasons related to the school itself, such as the rate of being held back and low interest of adolescents attending a low quality school.56 For individuals between the ages of 16 and 17, 70.2% were in school, while this rate increased to 97.4% in the population aged 5 to 13 years. These data indicate that child labor is also one of the causes of school exclusion, and when work gets compared to school as a child ages, the probability of truancy increases.
Although in Uruguay the insertion of adolescents in the educational system is slightly larger than in Brazil, some aspects related to exclusion are repeated, such as the allegation of lack of interest in studies, low grades and entry into the labor market. Lack of interest and poor school performance are the main reasons, but labor insertion follows shortly thereafter. The repetition rate among working children (according to FPSCN) is 55.6%; this means that more than half have been held back a grade at least once, when the national rate is 22.9%, so dropout related to school failure is one of the reasons most cited by adolescents.57
Regarding the racial component in the analysis of child labor, both Brazil and Uruguay share the trend of higher prevalence of non-white children and adolescents in child labor. The estimate for 2014 of PNAD in Brazil was that 63% of working children and adolescents were black, while in Uruguay, between the ages of 5 and 14, 11.2% are Afro-descendants, against 7.3% white. In the age group 15 to 17 years the same occurs, with rates of 39.1% and 31.1%, respectively.58
The high proportion of Afro-descendant children and adolescents in child labor in Brazil finds its origin in the legacy of slavery during the colonial period. For a long time, slavery was the system of labor that generated wealth and also fostered a negative representation of manual labor, relegated to black low-skilled work.59 Uruguay abolished slavery in 1852, before Brazil, which abolished it in 1888, the last country in the hemisphere to take that decision. But in Uruguay, the slave abolition law defined a role for blacks in society. Men were assigned to the army and women were kept as maids to serve their “masters.”60
The information, analyses, and data presented throughout this article demonstrate that a country with continental dimensions like Brazil, with 7.8 million working children (1992), managed to make an effort to reduce the phenomenon to 2.6 million (2015), establishing annual surveys to monitor the situation and promote policies to address it. Uruguay, a country with an absolute number of child labor close to 50,000, with a smaller national territory, did not establish a clear approach to the problem, having carried out very restricted research on the phenomenon, establishing a very diffuse definition without indicating in its official documents clearly whether the theme is among its priorities when it comes to the rights of children and adolescents.
Although Brazil has managed to significantly reduce its rates of child labor, this reduction has been slowing down and experiencing some stagnation. The challenge is to identify and reach the most complex cases, which need a more tailored approach, as they are not impacted by the policy initiatives implemented so far. Uruguay’s challenge, in this article’s view, is to put the issue of child labor on the national agenda more effectively, with more systematic data to follow and understand the phenomenon, and thus to advance policies for its eradication.
Discussion of the Literature
Several studies of child labor in Latin America have been produced since the 1980s. Most sought to quantify the problem by presenting numbers and statistics. International organizations such as the ILO and UNICEF have published reports and analyses based on figures compiled by national research institutions, such as the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) and Uruguay’s INE (National Institute of Statistics). Scholarly interest in the subject of child labor stems from a shift in the conception of childhood that began to gain momentum in the early 1980s. This trend fueled a series of social and discursive processes that produced new legislation and political initiatives. All of this combined to broaden the scope of problems affecting children and adolescents deemed worthy of attention.
Academic studies of the causes of child labor began to be produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Many of these works drew on research from universities and civil society organizations in order to provide their arguments with scientific bases and to demonstrate the economic, cultural, and social aspects of child labor and its impact on the lives of children and adolescents. These studies sought to challenge and demystify social perceptions of child labor as a foundational element of a young person’s character, and to contest the supposedly beneficial impact of child labor on the budgets of poor families. A historical reference in the study of child labor in Brazil is the book O trabalho e a rua, published in 1991 by UNICEF, FLACSO, and UNESCO, combining both statistical analysis and sociological, anthropological, and economic analyses of the phenomenon of child labor.61
In the 2000s, studies on child labor expanded their scope, questioning traditional and naturalized forms of child labor characterized by their invisibility, such as domestic child labor, and also sought to analyze the physical and psychological impact of child labor on children and adolescents as well as its impact on school performance and school attendance. Such studies also brought to the fore symbolic and cultural aspects of child labor, the effects of which are as significant as economic and social aspects.62
Work, in its varied forms and expressions, has always been a part of the lives of children and adolescents. Over time, child labor has become an important category in the analysis of the social question of childhood. The rise of child labor to a distinctive social category is mainly due to changes in the world of labor, social and political movements related to human rights, workers’ struggles, and changes in the conception of childhood.63
International factors also played an important role in establishing child labor as a political and social issue in Latin America. Studies, norms, and debates promoted by international organizations such as UNICEF and ILO influenced countries to act on the matter. Furthermore, transnational civil society organizations have mobilized in order to pressure governments and the international community to intervene on this problem.64 Efforts to increase global awareness of child labor has generated the need for more rigorous analyses that help to capture the magnitude of the phenomenon and its different manifestations.
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Vieira, Marcia Guedes. “Políticas Globais e Contextos Locais: Uma análise a partir do estudo comparado sobre a implementação do Programa Internacional para Eliminação do Trabalho Infantil da OIT no Brasil e no Paraguai.” Thesis (Doctorate), Centro de Pesquisa e Pós-Graduação sobre as Américas (CEPPAC), Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, 2014.Find this resource:
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(1.) For more, see Regina Célia, Couto, “Identidade Nacional na Fronteira Brasil-Uruguai: o currículo em foco,” Espaço do Currículo 6, no. 1 (January–April 2013): 135–143.
(2.) For more information, consult Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Uruguay: Censos 2011.
(5.) OIT-IPEC, Medir o progresso na Luta contra o Trabalho Infantil: Estimativas e tendências mundiais 2000–2012. (Bureau Internacional do Trabalho, Programa Internacional para a Eliminação do Trabalho Infantil [IPEC]). (Geneva: OIT, 2013).
(6.) ILO, Ratificación del C182 - Convenio sobre las peores formas de trabajo infantil, 1999 (núm. 182). ILO, Ratificación del C138 - Convenio sobre la edad mínima, 1973 (núm. 138). ILO, Ratificación del C138.
(7.) UNICEF, El trabajo infantil y adolescente en Uruguay y su impacto sobre la educación. Análisis de la situación en la década pasada y el presente (Montevideo: Oficina de UNICEF en Uruguay, 2003). Sprandel, Marcia Anita, Henrique José Antão de Carvalho, and Akio Motonaga Alexandre, Legislação comparada sobre o trabalho de crianças e adolescente nos países do Mercosul. Brasília. Brasília, OIT, 2006.
(8.) Sprandel, Marcia Anita, Henrique José Antão de Carvalho, and Akio Motonaga Alexandre, Legislação comparada sobre o trabalho de crianças e adolescente nos países do Mercosul. Brasília. UNICEF, El trabajo infantil y adolescente en Uruguay.
(10.) Marcia Guedes Vieira, “Trabalho Infantil no Brasil: questões culturais e políticas públicas” (Dissertation: Master’s in Social Sciences, Centro de Pesquisa e Pós-Graduação sobre as Américas [CEPPAC], Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, 2009).
(11.) On the discussion of the end of work we suggest André Gorz. “Adeus ao proletariado. (Rio de Janeiro: Forense, 1982); Ricardo Antunes. Adeus ao trabalho?: ensaio sobre as metamorfoses e a centralidade do mundo do trabalho 2nd ed. (São Paulo: Cortez; Campinas, SP: Editora da Universidade Estadual de Campinas, 1995), the latter being a counterpoint to Gorz’s argument. See also Claus Offe, Trabalho e sociedade: problemas estruturais e perspectivas para o futuro da ‘sociedade do trabalho,’ trans. Gustavo Bayer. vol. 1. (Rio de Janeiro: Tempo Brasileiro, 1989).
(12.) Karl Marx, O capital: o processo de produção do capital. Livro Primeiro, vol. 1. 13th ed. (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Bertrand Brasil, 1989), 50.
(13.) Hannah Arendt, A condição humana, trans. Roberto Raposo. 10th ed. (Rio de Janeiro: Forense Universitária, 2004).
(14.) Hannah Arendt, A condição humana, 91.
(15.) Hannah Arendt, A condição humana, 12.
(16.) See Marcia GuedesVieira and Simone Rodrigues Pinto, “Visões e significados do trabalho: um olhar histórico,” Revista de Estudos e Pesquisas sobre as Américas 2, no. 2 (2008): 45–51.
(17.) See Karl Marx, Manuscritos econômico-filosóficos, trans. Alex Marins (São Paulo: Martin Claret, 2002), 11.
(18.) Offe, Trabalho e sociedade.
(19.) Antunes, Adeus ao trabalho?
(20.) David Harvey, Condição pós-moderna: uma pesquisa sobre as Origens da Mudança Cultural. 4th ed. (Edições Loyola, São Paulo, 1994), 117.
(21.) Antunes. Adeus ao trabalho?, 44.
(22.) DNI (Defensa de Niños y Niñas Internacional), Reflexiones acerca del trabajo infantil y adolescente (Geneva: DNI Costa Rica, 2004).
(23.) According to article 7, subsection XXXIII of the Constituição Federal e do Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente (Lei 8069/1990) article 60.
(24.) BRASIL. Ministério do Trabalho e Emprego, Plano nacional de prevenção e erradicação do trabalho infantil e proteção ao trabalhador adolescente (Brasília: MTE/Secretaria de Inspeção do Trabalho, 2011), 4.
(25.) CETI (Comité Nacional para la Erradicación del Trabajo Infantil), Plan de Acción para la Prevención y Erradicación del Trabajo Infantil en el Uruguay 2003–2005 (Montevideo: Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social, 2003), 4.
(26.) IPEC; INE, “Magnitud y características del trabajo infantil en Uruguay.” Organización Internacional del Trabajo; Programa Internacional para la Erradicación del Trabajo Infantil (IPEC); Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) de Uruguay (Ginebra: OIT, 2011).
(27.) Marcia Guedes Vieira, “Políticas Globais e Contextos Locais: Uma análise a partir do estudo comparado sobre a implementação do Programa Internacional para Eliminação do Trabalho Infantil da OIT no Brasil e no Paraguai” (Thesis, Doctorate, Centro de Pesquisa e Pós-Graduação sobre as Américas [CEPPAC], Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, 2014).
(28.) IPEC; INE, “Magnitud y características del trabajo infantil en Uruguay,” 24.
(29.) IPEC; INE, “Magnitud y características del trabajo infantil en Uruguay,” 61.
(31.) Vieira, “Políticas Globais e Contextos Locais.”
(32.) The Global March against Child Labor “was an initiative of 27 non-governmental organizations from all continents, which met at The Hague in the Netherlands in February 1997 and spread to 107 countries” (Vieira, “Trabalho Infantil no Brasil,” 102).
(33.) Ruben Cervini and Freda Burger. “O menino trabalhador no Brasil urbano dos anos 80,” in O trabalho e a rua: crianças e adolescentes no Brasil urbano dos anos 80, org. Ayrton Fausto and Ruben Cervini, 2nd ed. São Paulo: Cortez, 1996: 17-46
(34.) IBGE (Instituto Brasiliero de Geografia e Estatística), Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios. Aspectos Complementares da Educação de Jovens e Adultos e Educação Profissional 2007 (Diretoria de Pesquisas. Coordenação de Trabalho e Rendimento. Rio de Janeiro: IBGE, 2009).
(35.) FNPETI (Fórum Nacional de Erradicação do Trabalho Infantil), Trabalho infantil no Brasil: uma leitura a partir da Pnad/IBGE—2013 (FNPETI, Brasília, 2014).
(36.) IBGE (Instituto Brasiliero de Geografia e Estatística), Pesquisa nacional por amostra de domicílios: síntese de indicadores 2015 (Coordenação de Trabalho e Rendimento. Rio de Janeiro: IBGE, 2016), 62–63.
(39.) IPEC; INE, “Magnitud y características del trabajo infantil en Uruguay.”
(40.) IPEC; INE, “Magnitud y características del trabajo infantil en Uruguay.”
(41.) The general production boundary adopted by INE in the Uruguayan survey follows the Resolution on child labor statistics, approved in December 2008 during the International Conference of Labor Statisticians, as explained below: “According to the Resolution, the System of National Accounts (SNA) serves as a conceptual basis for classifying the tasks performed by children and adolescents. This system designates a general frontier of production that separates productive activities from non-productive” (IPEC; INE, “Magnitud y características del trabajo infantil en Uruguay,” p. 23).
(42.) Verónica Filardo and Víctor Borrás, “El acceso al sistema educativo de los jóvenes: análisis de tres países latinoamericanos en base a las encuestas de juventud” (Trabajo presentado en las XIV Jornadas de Investigación de la Facultad de Ciencias Sociales-UdelaR. Montevideo, September 15–17, 2015).
(43.) OIT, “Oficina Regional para las Américas/Programa IPEC. La acción Del IPEC contra el trabajo infantil em América Latina y el Caribe 1996–2004: avances y prioridades futuras,” (Lima, 2004).
(44.) Richard Sennett, A corrosão do caráter, 11th ed. (Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2006).
(45.) Richard Sennett, A corrosão do caráter.
(46.) Christophe Dejours, A banalização da injustiça social. 4th ed. (Rio de Janeiro: Editora FGV, 2001).
(47.) Arendt, A condição humana, 12.
(48.) Marx, Manuscritos econômico-filosóficos.
(49.) OIT, “Informe mundial sobre trabajo infantil: Vulnerabilidad económica, protección social y lucha contra el trabajo infantil” (Oficina Internacional del Trabajo, Ginebra: OIT, 2013). Vieira, “Trabalho Infantil no Brasil”; and Vieira, “Políticas Globais e Contextos Locais.”
(52.) IPEC; INE, “Magnitud y características del trabajo infantil en Uruguay.” IBGE, Pesquisa nacional por amostra de domicílios: síntese de indicadores 2015.
(55.) IBGE, Pesquisa nacional por amostra de domicílios: síntese de indicadores 2015; Filardo and Borrás, “El acceso al sistema educativo de los jóvenes: análisis de tres países latinoamericanos en base a las encuestas de juventud.”
(57.) IPEC; INE, “Magnitud y características del trabajo infantil en Uruguay.”
(58.) FNPETI (Fórum Nacional de Erradicação do Trabalho Infantil), Cenário do Trabalho Infantil-PNAD 2014 (FNPETI, Brasília, 2015). IPEC; INE, “Magnitud y características del trabajo infantil en Uruguay.”
(59.) Caio Prado Jr., Formação do Brasil contemporâneo: colônia, 1st ed. (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2011).
(61.) Ayrton Fausto and Ruben Cervini, O trabalho e a rua: crianças e adolescentes no Brasil urbano dos anos 80, 2nd ed. (São Paulo: Cortez, 1996).
(62.) Regarding the cultural aspects of childhood see Olga Nieuwenhuys, “The Paradox of Child Labor and Anthropology,” Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 25 (1996), 237–251. Readers might also consult some of literature review articles by Lia da Rocha Lordelo, and Antonio Marcos, Chaves, “Crianças e adolescentes: uma revisão da literatura,” Revista Entreideias 1, no.1 (January–June 2012): 61–83; F. Javier Murillo Torrecilla and Marcela Román Carrasco, “Consecuencias del trabajo infantil en el desempeño escolar: Estudiantes latinoamericanos de educación primaria,” Latin American Research Review 49, no. 2 (2014): 84–106; Alejandra Rivero. “Aportes teóricos hacia la visibilización del trabajo infantil en Uruguay,” Undergraduate Thesis. Universidad de la Republica (Uruguay). Facultad de Ciencias Sociales. Departamento de Trabajo Social, 2013.
(63.) Vieira, “Trabalho Infantil no Brasil.”
(64.) María Laura Peiró and María Eugenia Rausk, “El trabajo de niños y jóvenes: aportes para una reflexión sobre su tratamiento conceptual,” (Trabajo presentado en la VII Reunión de Antropología del Mercosur – Desafios Antropológicos Porto Alegre Brasil, July 23-26, 2007).