By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The minimum legal working age in Brazil is sixteen, with some specific internships allowed from fourteen, but there are around 3.7 million working minors in the country, according to the 2011 National Survey of Households, conducted by the IBGE.

This boy was photographed working illegally on a mandioca plant in Feira Nova, Pernambuco, in Brazil's northeast region, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News.
Child labor was exposed on this mandioca plant in Feira Nova, Pernambuco state, photo by SRTE/PE.

More worryingly, as many as 1.97 million children continue to work in “hazardous or insalubrious activities,” including activities using dangerous equipment on farms, which is banned for under-18s.

Progress has been made over the past twenty years, and child labor has fallen from 19.6 percent for 5- to 17-year-olds in 1992 to 8.3 percent in 2011, O Globo newspaper reports.

Data from the 2000 and 2010 Censuses shows that all states in Brazil’s Northeast region, often associated with child labor, saw up to a thirty-percent drop in child labor in 10- to 17-year-olds.

However, other states have now seen numbers begin to rise again, particularly in Brazil’s Center-West and North regions, with Amapá state recording an increase of 67 percent. Some 6.7 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds in Rio state work, at 10.4 percent in São Paulo state, the 2010 figures showed.

Some officials say the government is making real progress and can achieve the targets, with the help of social help centers around the country and state programs, such as Brasil Carinhoso, which provides extra care for children living below the poverty line.

Minister Lélio Bentes, from the Commission for the Eradication of Child Labor, says that while child labor in Brazil and Latin America has roughly halved since 1992, Brazil will fail to reach the targets set for its eradication. “New strategies are needed. The Bolsa Família has been an effective tool but, alone, it is not working,” Bentes told O Globo.

Children's activities at NGO ACER Brasil in Diadema, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News.
Charity ACER Brasil helps 5,000 at-risk children in the Diadema community, São Paulo state, photo by ACER Brasil.

Brazilian NGO Repórter Brasil says data from the 2010 Census shows that there were 1.5 percent more children working from the most vulnerable group – those aged 10 to 13 years. Children are regularly found working in dangerous environments, including tobacco, cotton, mandioca and sugar cane production facilities, as well as wood-cutting plants on farms spraying pesticides.

All too often children are not allowed to complete their basic education, with parents justifying this by saying that children need to start work early to progress in life. Over five million children in Brazil of compulsory schooling age are believed not to attend classes.

Although rural communities have traditionally been affected worse, children in cities can be found working landfill sites to salvage items, as well as in the sex and drugs trafficking trades, charities warn.

Jonathan Hannay, Secretary General of ACER Brasil – an NGO working with 5,000 children in Diadema, São Paulo – says that the reality for most urban working children is being forced to clean the house and look after siblings, or engaging in extremely lowly-paid piece work, such as gluing novelty shopping bags at a rate of R$7 (US$3.26) per thousand.

“Child labor is growing again in many places and affecting the youngest, most vulnerable children. Much of this is domestic work at home, caused by the staggered, short “shifts” that Brazilian schools operate for their pupils and by parents having to travel many hours to work each day,” Mr. Hannay tells The Rio Times.

He says Brazil needs to build many more schools and extend the school day as a priority – allowing families to organize themselves better – which has long been promised but failed to materialize.

This year’s World Day Against Child Labor on June 12th will address the problem of domestic child labor worldwide.


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