Last Updated: Friday, 21 November 2014, 13:47 GMT

2003 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Colombia

Publisher United States Department of Labor
Author Bureau of International Labor Affairs
Publication Date 29 April 2004
Cite as United States Department of Labor, 2003 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Colombia, 29 April 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48c8ca0d5.html [accessed 23 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Government Policies and Programs to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor

The Government of Colombia became an associated member of ILO-IPEC in 1997[995] and has been a member since 2002.[996] Prior to joining ILO-IPEC, the government established the National Commission for the Eradication of Child Labor in 1995,[997] and in 1996, the government developed its first National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labor and Protection of Working Minors.[998] In 2000, a second national action plan on child labor was developed,[999] and in 2002, child labor was included in the government's 4-year national development plan.[1000] In 2003, the government implemented a reform of its labor laws that rewards businesses who employ workers over the age of 16 years.[1001]

The government is participating in an ILO-IPEC regional project funded by USDOL to prevent and eliminate the involvement of children in domestic labor.[1002] Colombia is also participating in an USDOL-funded ILO-IPEC project to prevent and eliminate child labor in small-scale mining.[1003] Federal and state government agencies in Colombia have also worked with ILO-IPEC to implement projects for working children involved in commercial sexual exploitation, agriculture, and urban work.[1004] In early 2003, the government published data on child labor that it had collected with technical assistance from ILO-IPEC's SIMPOC.[1005]

Since 1994, the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF) has conducted programs to assist child soldiers involved in the country's ongoing armed conflict.[1006] With support from USAID, IOM has worked with ICBF since 2001 on transition and reintegration services for demobilized children. The government provides necessary furniture and equipment to support transitional homes for such children and conducts ongoing evaluation and monitoring of the services. IOM has also worked with the government's public defenders office to develop legal norms for treatment of child ex-combatants.[1007] The Colombian Ministry of Interior likewise operates a program that finds housing for and provides grants and training to demobilized child combatants.[1008] The Government of Colombia recently began participating in a 3-year inter-regional ILO-IPEC project funded by USDOL in 2003 that aims to prevent and reintegrate children involved in armed conflict.[1009]

The Ministry of Education has extended the school day to discourage children from working and has carried out education programs for children who have abandoned schooling.[1010] In 2002, the World Bank provided a 1-year loan to Colombia to strengthen social safety nets, which included an initiative to strengthen the capacity of ICBF's child programs and to support the country's Education for All efforts.[1011] In 2001, the Bank provided a 3-year loan to support government programs that provide scholarships and cash grants for education to poor families.[1012] In 2000, the World Bank awarded a 4-year loan to the government to improve the quality of and access to education in the country's rural areas.[1013] In 1999, the IDB approved financing for the Ministry of Education to initiate education reforms, including initiatives to ensure children are offered a full cycle of basic education.[1014] In 2000, the IDB provided a 3-year loan to the Government of Colombia to strengthen social safety nets, including a component to provide assistance to families with children to increase school attendance and reduce primary and secondary dropout rates.[1015]

Incidence and Nature of Child Labor

In 2001, the National Administrative Department of Statistics estimated that 14.5 percent of children ages 5 to 17 were working.[1016] The vast majority of these children were in agriculture, commerce, industry and services.[1017] In rural areas, most working children participate in uncompensated family agricultural and mining activities.[1018] Children also work in all aspects of the cut flower industry.[1019] In 2001, the National Administrative Department of Statistics estimated that there were 20,000 children working in coca picking and other aspects of the drug trade.[1020] In urban areas, children work in the retail and services sectors, and in activities such as street vending and waiting tables.[1021]

Children are involved in commercial sexual exploitation in Colombia. ICBF estimates that more than 10,000 girls and nearly 1,000 boys in the capital of Bogotá are working as prostitutes.[1022] Colombia is a major source country for girls who are trafficked abroad, primarily for sexual exploitation.[1023] Children are also trafficked internally in the country for sexual exploitation and forced conscription into armed groups.[1024] Children are forcibly recruited by guerrilla and paramilitary groups in Colombia to serve as combatants,[1025] messengers, spies, and sexual partners, and to carry out such tasks as kidnapping and guarding of hostages and transporting and placing bombs.[1026]

The Constitution requires children ages 5 to 15 to attend school, and education is free in state institutions.[1027] In 2000, the gross primary enrollment rate was 112.4 percent, and the net primary enrollment rate was 88.5 percent.[1028] That same year, the gross primary attendance rate was 139.5 percent, and the net primary attendance rate was 92.8 percent.[1029] While basic education enrollment improved over the 1990s, many children in rural and low-income populations in Colombia face obstacles to schooling access.[1030]

Child Labor Laws and Enforcement

The Labor Code sets the minimum age for employment at 14 years, but also defines special conditions under which children ages 12 and 13 are authorized to perform light work with permission from parents and labor authorities.[1031] Article 44 of the Constitution calls for the protection of children against all forms of economic exploitation, exploitation in employment, and hazardous work.[1032] The Constitution also prohibits forced labor.[1033] The Penal Code prohibits inducing or compelling children to engage in prostitution and prohibits the production and distribution of pornography.[1034] In 2002, the government strengthened anti-trafficking legislation and increased penalties for violations.[1035] Law 548 of 1999 establishes that persons under the age of 18 cannot perform military service.[1036]

The Ministry of Social Protection (formerly the Ministry of Labor and Health),[1037] the ICBF, the Minors' Police, the Prosecutor's Office for the Protection of the Child and Family, and Family Commissioners are the entities authorized to implement and enforce the country's child labor laws and regulations.[1038] The Ministry of Social Protection is responsible for conducting child labor inspections, but the system lacks resources and is only able to cover a small percentage of the child labor force employed in the formal sector.[1039] The Ministry estimates that only five percent of workplaces that employ children obtain the required work permits.[1040] The Government of Colombia is a leader in international efforts to combat trafficking, police actively investigate trafficking offenses, and the crime carries significant penalties. A lack of resources for a witness protection system and intimidation by traffickers hinder prosecution efforts.[1041] The lack of resources also inhibits the government's ability to enforce the legal prohibition against forced labor by children in the country's armed conflict.[1042]

The Government of Colombia ratified ILO Convention 138 on February 2, 2001, but has not ratified ILO Convention 182.[1043]


[995] This status allowed for the initiation of projects in the country. See ILO-IPEC, Ficha Pais: Colombia, Lima, 2003; available from http://www.oit.org.pe/spanish/260ameri/oitreg/activid/proyectos/ipec/doc/fichas/fichacolombia.doc.

[996] ILO-IPEC, IPEC Action Against Child Labour: Highlights 2002, Geneva, October 2002, 16.

[997] The commission is composed of members from government, employer and union organizations, and NGOs including the Ministries of Labor, Education and Health, the Department of National Planning, and the National Statistics Department. See U.S. Embassy-Bogotá, unclassified telegram no. 9111, October 2001.

[998] ILO-IPEC, Ficha Pais: Colombia.

[999] The objectives of the plan include consolidation of a national child labor information system; development of cultural attitudes against child labor; legislative and public policy reform; and withdrawal of children engaged in the worst forms of child labor. See Inter-Institutional Committee for the Eradication of Child Labor and the Protection of Young Workers, Plan Nacional de Acción para la Erradicación del Trabajo Infantil y la Protección de los Jóvenes Trabajadores entre 15 y 17 años, ILO-IPEC, Lima, February 2000; available from http://www.oit.org.pe/spanish/260ameri/oitreg/activid/proyectos/ipec/doc/fichas/plancol0002.doc.

[1000] ILO-IPEC, Prevention and Elimination of Child Labor in Small-Scale Mining: Technical Progress Report, Geneva, February 24, 2003, Section II B.

[1001] U.S. Embassy-Bogotá, unclassified telegram no. 7759, August 19, 2003.

[1002] This 3-year project was funded in 2000, and is also being implemented in Brazil, Paraguay, and Peru. See ILO-IPEC, Prevention and Elimination of Child Domestic Labor in South America, project document, RLA/00/P53/USA, Geneva, September 2000, 1. In April 2002, the project was extended until March 2004. See also ILO-IPEC, Modification Number 1: Prevention and Elimination of Child Domestic Labor in South America, Geneva, April 2002.

[1003] This 2-year project was funded in 2001. See ILO-IPEC, Prevention and Elimination of Child Labor in Small-Scale Mining-Colombia, project document, COL/01/P50/USA, Geneva, September 25, 2001, 20. The government has participated in trainings on child labor in the mining sector under this project. See ILO-IPEC, Prevention and Elimination of Child Labor in Small-Scale Mining: Technical Progress Report, Section 4.

[1004] ILO-IPEC, Domestic Labor in South America, project document, 6. See ILO-IPEC, "Comunidad de Madrid (España) apoya proyecto de Erradicación de la Explotación Sexual Infantil en Barranquilla, Colombia," Encuentros 1 no. 2 (December 2001); available from http://www.oit.org.pe/spanish/260ameri/oitreg/activid/proyectos/ipec/boletin/numero2/Boletindos/notipeca.html. The Government of Spain has also provided funding for an ILO-IPEC project to strengthen national coordination. See ILO-IPEC, List of all ILO-IPEC projects (active and completed) as at 30 September 2002, Geneva, 2002.

[1005] See ILO-IPEC official, electronic communication to USDOL official, May 12, 2003. See also National Administrative Department of Statistics, Encuesta Nacional de Trabajo Infantil, Bogotá, November 2001, 7-8.

[1006] IOM, Programa de Atención a Niños, Niñas y Jovenes Desvinculados del Conflicto Armado, [online] 2002 [cited June 20, 2003]; available from http://www.oim.org.co/scripts/programas2.php?idart=25&categ=14&categn=Asistencia%20a%20poblaciones%20desarraigadas. In 2001, the Colombian government reported that spending on children affected by the country's armed conflict, including former child soldiers, was USD 4 million per year. See UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Summary record of the 656th meeting: Colombia, United Nations, Geneva, February 9, 2001, para. 37; available from http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/1d70ca35b83c823ac12569f800397e64?Opendocument.

[1007] IOM, Programa de Atencion a Ninos, Ninas y Jovenes Desvinculados.

[1008] Human Rights Watch, You'll Learn Not to Cry: Child Combatants in Colombia, Washington, September 2003, 113.

[1009] ILO-IPEC, Prevention and Reintegration of Children Involved in Armed Conflicts: An Inter-Regional Programme, project document, Geneva, September 17, 2003.

[1010] U.S. Embassy-Bogotá, unclassified telegram no. 7759.

[1011] World Bank, Colombia: Social Sector Adjustment Loan Project, [online] [cited June 27, 2003]; available from http://www-wds.worldbank.org/servlet/WDSServlet?pcont=details&eid=000094946_02071304010449.

[1012] World Bank, Human Capital Protection Project, [online] August 12, 2002 [cited June 27, 2003]; available from http://web.worldbank.org/external/projects/main?pagePK=104231&piPK=73230&theSitePK=40941&menuPK=228424&Projectid=P069964.

[1013] World Bank, Rural Education Project, [online] August 12, 2002 [cited August 16, 2002]; available from http://www4.worldbank.org/sprojects/Project.asp?pid=P050578.

[1014] The goal of the project is to strengthen decentralized school management and ensure efficient and equitable distribution of resources to schools. See Inter-American Development Bank, New School System Program: Reform of Education Management and Participation, IADB, Washington, September 1999; available from http://www.iadb.org/exr/doc98/apr/CO1202E.pdf.

[1015] Inter-American Development Bank, Social Safety Net Program, IADB, Washington, November 2000; available from http://www.iadb.org/exr/doc98/apr/CO1280E.pdf.

[1016] This figure includes children working outside the home in the productive sector of the economy. It does not measure work in activities in the household, regardless of the amount of time devoted to such activities. See National Administrative Department of Statistics, Encuesta Nacional de Trabajo Infantil, 30, 52-54.

[1017] Ibid., 55.

[1018] ILO-IPEC, Small Scale Mining-Colombia, project document, 7.

[1019] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2002: Colombia, Washington, D.C., March 31, 2003, Section 6d; available from http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18325pf.htm. See also U.S. Embassy-Bogotá, unclassified telegram no. 9111.

[1020] Colombian Ombudsman's Office, Informe sobre los derechos humanos de la niñez en Colombia durante el año 2001, 2001, 26.

[1021] U.S. Embassy-Bogotá, unclassified telegram no. 9111.

[1022] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Colombia, Section 6f. The government estimates that 25,000 children in total in Colombia are engaged in some form of commercial sexual exploitation. See U.S. Embassy-Bogotá, unclassified telegram no. 7759.

[1023] U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report – 2003: Colombia, Washington, D.C., June 2003; available from http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2003/. See also IOM, "New IOM Figures on the Global Scale of Trafficking," Trafficking in Migrants No. 23 (April 2001); available from http://www.iom.int//DOCUMENTS/PUBLICATION/EN/tm_23.pdf.

[1024] Although estimates of the number of children trafficked for conscription into armed groups are not available, in 2002, the government estimated that 12,000 to 15,000 children were members of guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Most of these children were members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). See U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Colombia, Section 5 and 6f.

[1025] Ibid., Section 6c. The government estimated that in 2002, approximately 6,000 children served as soldiers in illegal armed groups. See U.S. Embassy-Bogotá, unclassified telegram no. 7759.

[1026] Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, "Colombia," in Global Report 2001, London, 2001; available from http://www.child-soldiers.org/cs/childsoldiers.nsf/Report/Global%20Report%202001/%20GLOBAL%20REPORT%20CONTENTS?OpenDocument.

[1027] Constitución Política de Colombia de 1991, actualizada hasta reforma de 2001, (1991), Article 67; available from http://www.georgetown.edu/pdba/Constitutions/Colombia/col91.html.

[1028] World Bank, World Development Indicators 2003 [CD-ROM], Washington, D.C., 2003.

[1029] USAID, Development Household Survey, 2000.

[1030] UNESCO, Education for All 2000 Assessment: Country Reports – Colombia, prepared by Ministry of National Education, pursuant to UN General Assembly Resolution 52/84, September 1999, Section 5.2.2; available from http://www2.unesco.org/wef/countryreports/colombia/contents.html.

[1031] U.S. Embassy-Bogotá, unclassified telegram no. 9111. The Minors' Code also prohibits children under the age of 12 from working, sets limits on the number of hours children ages 12 to 17 may work, and forbids employment of children at night. See U.S. Embassy-Bogotá, unclassified telegram no. 7759.

[1032] Constitución Política de Colombia, Art. 44.

[1033] Article 53 prohibits depriving workers of their liberty. Ibid.

[1034] Penal Code, Articles 308-12; available from http://www.interpol.int/public/children/sexualabuse/nationallaws/csaColombia.asp.

[1035] U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report: Colombia.

[1036] Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, "Global Report 2001: Colombia."

[1037] Ministerio de la Protección Social, Bienvenidos: Ministerio de la Protección Social, [online] [cited August 13, 2003]; available from http://www.mintrabajo.gov.co/NewSite/MseContent/home.asp.

[1038] U.S. Embassy-Bogotá, unclassified telegram no. 9111. ICBF is the entity responsible for accepting complaints and tracking cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children. See Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, ICBF Apoya la "Dignidad Infantil", [online] [cited June 20, 2003]; available from http://www.icbf.gov.co/espanol/Noticias3.asp?IdNot=151.

[1039] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Colombia, Section 6d.

[1040] U.S. Embassy-Bogotá, unclassified telegram no. 7759.

[1041] U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report: Colombia.

[1042] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Colombia, Section 6c. There are many reports that guerrilla forces have threatened children or their families with death as punishment for desertion. See U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Colombia, Section 5. See Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, "Colombia," in Child Soldiers 1379 Report, London, 2002; available from http://www.child-soldiers.org/cs/childsoldiers.nsf/Report/Global%20Report%202001/%20GLOBAL%20REPORT%20CONTENTS?OpenDocument.

[1043] ILO, Ratifications by Country, in ILOLEX, [database online] [cited October 16, 2003]; available from http://www.ilo.org/ilolex/english/newratframeE.htm.

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