Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

2002 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Panama

Publisher United States Department of Labor
Author Bureau of International Labor Affairs
Publication Date 18 April 2003
Cite as United States Department of Labor, 2002 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Panama, 18 April 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48d748a5c.html [accessed 21 December 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 Programs and Policies to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor

The Government of Panama has been a member of ILO-IPEC since 1996.2739 With funding from USDOL, the Department of Statistics and Census of the General Audit Office of Panama is conducting a national child labor survey with technical assistance from ILO-IPEC's SIMPOC.2740 ILO-IPEC, with USDOL funding, is also supporting baseline surveys on child labor in the sugar and coffee sectors in Panama.2741 Panama is also participating in a USDOL funded ILO-IPEC program aimed at institutional capacity building, strengthening of law enforcement mechanisms, awareness raising, and combating child labor in the rural and urban informal sectors,2742 as well as a regional project aimed at combating commercial sexual exploitation.2743 A Canadian-funded ILO-IPEC project is also underway to gather information on child domestic labor in Panama. Under this project, the National Committee for the Eradication of Child Labor and Protection for Working Minors and the Ministry of Labor are coordinating with ILO-IPEC to develop action programs aimed at raising awareness and removing children from domestic work.2744

The Committee for the Eradication of Child Labor and Protection for Working Minors was established in 1997 by the Government of Panama in order to create a National Plan for the Progressive Elimination of Child Labor.2745 The Ministry of Youth, Women, Childhood, and Family has created training and assistance centers for children living in urban areas such as Panama City and Colón, and for those living in the rural areas including Chiriqui, Veraguas, and Cocle. The centers provide health care, education opportunities, and vocational and social skills training to children and their families in an effort to prevent child labor.2746 Members of the Ministry of Labor's Child Labor Unit have participated in courses and workshops aimed at raising awareness on domestic labor, commercial sexual exploitation, data measurement on child labor, the development of a plan of action to prevent child work on Panama City streets, and forced child labor.2747

Through its Education for All efforts and its ten-year strategy for education (1997-2006), the government seeks to provide greater opportunity, access and services to groups such as indigenous populations and the disabled.2748 In 2000, the World Bank approved a loan of USD 35 million to help the government improve the quality of basic education in a project that is expected to benefit about 60 percent of Panama's children attending primary and secondary school. The funds are being used to upgrade, expand and rehabilitate run-down or inadequate school buildings in order to accommodate a growing number of students in primary and secondary schools; expand early childhood education programs; and strengthen the Ministry of Education's capacity.2749 In 2002, the Ministry of Education's Basic Education Unit developed a plan and programs of study for its primary education centers and is working to improve the quality of basic education.2750

Incidence and Nature of Child Labor

In 2000, the ILO estimated that 2.5 percent of children ages 10 to 14 years in Panama were working.2751 Children are found working in rural areas during the harvesting periods for sugar cane, coffee, bananas, and tomatoes.2752 While most working children in Panama are engaged in agricultural activities, especially among the indigenous population, such work is usually dismissed as part of the local culture.2753 Children from indigenous communities in Panama also accompany their parents to work in Costa Rica during the coffee harvest.2754 Children in Panama also work as domestic servants.2755 Child labor exists in urban areas,2756 especially in the informal sector.2757 A 1998 study of Panama City's juvenile detention center found that the vast majority of detainees had been working as street vendors, car washers and supermarket packers when they were arrested for delinquency.2758 The commercial sexual exploitation of children has also been reported.2759 Trafficking in women and girls exists. Panama is a destination point for girls trafficked from Colombia and the Dominican Republic.2760

In Panama, education is free and compulsory through the equivalent of ninth grade.2761 In 1998, the gross primary enrollment rate was 106.4 percent, and the net primary enrollment rate was 93.7 percent.2762 The proportion of dropouts is higher in rural and indigenous areas combined, than in urban areas.2763 Many rural areas do not have access to secondary education and the government does not cover transportation costs.2764 Children from poor families often do not attend school due to lack of transportation and the need to migrate with their families during the harvesting season.2765 School attendance is a particular problem in the Darien province and in indigenous communities.2766 About one-third of children from the indigenous communities miss the first three months of the academic year to work in the coffee harvest.2767 According to the Ministry of Youth, Women, Children and Family, 82 percent of the children in rural areas are absent from school during the harvest season.2768 Attendance rates are not available for Panama. While enrollment rates indicate a level of commitment to education, they do not always reflect children's participation in school.2769

Child Labor Laws and Enforcement

The Labor Code and the Constitution set the minimum age for employment at 14 years of age. However, the Labor Code allows children less than 15 to work only if they have completed primary school.2770 According to the 1995 Law on Education, no child under 15 years of age is allowed to engage in work that interferes with his or her school attendance.2771 Further, Article 119 of the Labor Code permits minors between the ages of 12 and 15 to perform farm or domestic labor as long as the work is light and does not interfere with schooling.2772 The Labor Code also stipulates that minors under the age of 18 are prohibited from working in nightclubs, bars or other places where the consumption of alcoholic beverages is allowed; in transportation and electric energy; underground work; and the handling of explosives and flammables.2773 With the exception of work in nightclubs, these provisions may be waived if a minor performs the job as part of vocational training and work is conducted under the supervision of competent authorities.2774 Children younger than 16 may work no more than six hours a day or 36 hours per week, and children under 18 may work no more than seven hours a day or 42 hours per week.2775 Minors under the age of 18 may not work between the hours of 6 p.m. and 8 a.m.2776

The Labor Code also prohibits forced labor by children.2777 Article 501 of the Family Code2778 and Article 215C of the Penal Code criminalize child prostitution and child pornography for minors.2779 Trafficking in children is prohibited under the Penal Code.2780 The Penal Code calls for prison sentences of two to six years for the promotion or facilitation of entry or exit of a person into or out of Panama for the purpose of prostitution. However, prosecution is rare and corruption is common.2781

The Superior Tribunal for Minors and the Superior Tribunal for Families are the judicial bodies responsible for overseeing the protection and care of children. The Ministry of Youth, Women, Children, and Family proposes and reviews laws and monitors government performance with regard to children's issues.2782 The Ministry of Labor responds to child labor complaints and has the authority to order the termination of unauthorized employment; however, it lacks sufficient staff to enforce some child labor provisions in rural areas.2783 Businesses that employ an underage child are subject to civil fines, while employers who endanger the physical or mental health of a child can face imprisonment.2784 Although Panama has developed a strong legal framework to combat the worst forms of child labor and has conducted several child labor inspections in the coffee, sugar, melon, and tomato sectors,2785 child labor violations continue to occur, especially on commercial coffee and sugar farms and in the informal sector.2786

The Government of Panama ratified both ILO Convention 138 and ILO Convention 182 on October 31, 2000.2787


2739 ILO-IPEC, Country Program for Combating the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Panama, project document, Geneva, September 2002, 5.

2740 ILO-IPEC, Statistical Information and Monitoring Program on Child Labor, project document for Central America, Geneva, 1999, 5, 10.

2741 ILO-IPEC, Preparation and Design of IPEC Project Documents: Budget FY 2001, Geneva, 2001. See also Maruquel Icaza, Legal Attaché, Embassy of Panama, letter to USDOL official, September 23, 2002.

2742 ILO-IPEC, Country Program for Combating the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Panama, project document, 1. See also Icaza, letter, September 23, 2002.

2743 In Panama, this project will focus primarily on regional collaboration, awareness raising, institutional capacity building, and coordination. ILO-IPEC, Contribution to the Prevention and Elimination of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Central America, Panama and the Dominican Republic, project document, Geneva, April 2002, 5, 27-28.

2744 ILO-IPEC, Country Program for Combating the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Panama, project document, 7. See also Icaza, letter, September 23, 2002.

2745 ILO-IPEC, Country Program for Combating the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Panama, project document, 5, 10.

2746 Ministry of Youth, Women, Children, and Family, Programas y proyectos contra el trabajo infantil, Panama, 2000, 10-19.

2747 U.S. Embassy – Panama, unclassified telegram no. 3615, November 2001.

2748 UNESCO, Education for All 2000 Assessment: Country Reports – Panama, prepared by Dra. Luzmila C. de Sánchez, pursuant to UN General Assembly Resolution 52/84, 1999, [cited December 16, 2002]; available from http://www2.unesco.org/wef/countryreports/panama/rapport_1.html. See also ILO-IPEC, Country Program for Combating the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Panama, project document, 6-7.

2749 "World Bank Supports Better Education for Panama's Rural and Indigenous Children," M2 Presswire, September 11, 2000.

2750 Ministry of Education, Ministry of Education's Programs for the President's Report, Panama, 2.

2751 World Bank, World Development Indicators 2002 [CD-ROM], Washington, D.C., 2002. According to the ILO, 7,000 children between 10-14 were economically active. ILO, Yearbook of Labour Statistics 2001, [online] [cited August 27, 2002]; available from http://laborsta.ilo.org/cgi-bin/brokerv8.exe.

2752 U. S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2001: Panama, Washington, D.C., 2002, 2987-90, Section 6d. See also ILO-IPEC, Country Program for Combating the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Panama, project document, 2-3. See also U.S. Embassy – Panama, unclassified telegram no. 3473, October 2002.

2753 ILO-IPEC, Country Program for Combating the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Panama, project document, 2-3. See also U.S. Embassy – Panama, unclassified telegram no. 1934, May 2000. See also U.S. Embassy – Panama, unclassified telegram no. 4656, December 2000. See also U. S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2001: Panama, 2984-90.

2754 "Indígenas sostienen cosechas de café," La Nación (San José, Costa Rica), January 20, 2002.

2755 Commission on Women's Issues, the Rights of Children, Youth, and Family, Condición del trabajo infantil y juvenil en las cañaverales de las provincias Cocle y Veraguas, Panama, 2000, 16.

2756 Child beggars, grocery baggers and street vendors are found in many urban areas of Panama. These children all work informally and without legal protection. See U. S. Department of Labor, official trip report, July 2002. See also U. S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2001: Panama, 2987-90, Section 6d.

2757 ILO-IPEC, Country Program for Combating the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Panama, project document, 3-4. U.S. Embassy – Panama, unclassified telegram no. 3473.

2758 U.S. Embassy – Panama, unclassified telegram no. 1934.

2759 ILO-IPEC, Contribution to the Prevention and Elimination of Commercial Sexual Exploitation, project document, 12.

2760 U. S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2001: Panama, 2987-90, Section 6f.

2761 Ibid., 2984-87, Section 5. See also ILO-IPEC, Country Program for Combating the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Panama, project document, 4.

2762 UNESCO, Education for All: Year 2000 Assessment [CD-ROM], Paris, 2000.

2763 Ministry of Education, Estadísticas Educativas 2000, National Bureau of Education Planning Department of Statistics, 2000, 40-41.

2764 U.S. Embassy – Panama, unclassified telegram no. 3473.

2765 U. S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2001: Panama, 2984-90, Sections 5 and 6d. See also Commission on Women's Issues, Children, Youth, and Family, Condición del trabajo, 27.

2766 U. S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2001: Panama, 2984-87, Section 5.

2767 U.S. Embassy – Panama City, unclassified telegram no. 2080, June 2002.

2768 Ministry of Youth, Women, Children, and Family, Programas y proyectos, 8.

2769 For a more detailed discussion on the relationship between education statistics and work, see the preface to this report.

2770 Government of Panama, Labor Code, Article 117. See also Constitution of Panama, (1994), [cited December 16, 2002]; available from http://www.georgetown.edu/pdba/Constitutions/Panama/panama1994.html. See also Government of Panama, Código de la familia, (1995), Articulo 508.

2771 Government of Panama, Texto Unico de la Ley 47 de 1946, Orgánica de Educación, con las adiciones y modificaciones introducidas por la Ley 34 de 6 de Julio de 1995, Artículo 46.

2772 Labor Code, Articles 119 and 23.

2773 Ibid., Article 118.

2774 Ibid.

2775 Ibid., Article 122.

2776 Ibid., Article 120.

2777 U. S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2001: Panama, 2984-87, Section 6c.

2778 Código de la familia, Article 501.

2779 U.S. Embassy – Panama, unclassified telegram no. 3133, August 2000.

2780 U. S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2001: Panama, 2987-90, Section 6f.

2781 Ibid.

2782 Ibid., 2984-87, Section 5.

2783 Ibid., 2987-90, Section 6d.

2784 U.S. Embassy – Panama City, unclassified telegram no. 3286, October 2001.

2785 Ibid. See also U.S. Embassy – Panama, unclassified telegram no. 3615. See also Icaza, letter, September 23, 2002.

2786 U.S. Embassy – Panama City, unclassified telegram no. 3286.

2787 ILO, Ratifications by Country, in ILOLEX, [database online], [cited December 16, 2002]; available from http://www.ilo.org/ilolex/english/newratframeE.htm.

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