Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April 2014, 13:11 GMT

2004 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Costa Rica

Publisher United States Department of Labor
Author Bureau of International Labor Affairs
Publication Date 22 September 2005
Cite as United States Department of Labor, 2004 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Costa Rica, 22 September 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48c8ca4f3c.html [accessed 18 April 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.

Selected Child Labor Measures Adopted by Governments
Ratified Convention 138 6/11/1976X
Ratified Convention 182 9/10/2001X
ILO-IPEC MemberX
National Plan for ChildrenX
National Child Labor Action PlanX
Sector Action Plan 

Incidence and Nature of Child Labor

The Costa Rican National Institute of Statistics and Censuses estimated that 5.9 percent of children ages 5 to 14 years were working in Costa Rica in 2002.[1131] More children work in rural than urban areas.[1132] In rural areas, children work in agriculture, primarily on family-owned farms. Costa Rican children traditionally help harvest coffee beans. Nicaraguan immigrants, including children, are also found working on Costa Rican farms.[1133] Some children work as domestic servants, and others may be involved in street vending, construction, fixing cars, family businesses, and the small-scale production of handicrafts.[1134] The banana industry did not employ youths under 18 years.[1135]

The commercial sexual exploitation of children is a continuing problem in Costa Rica,[1136] and is often associated with the country's sex tourism industry.[1137] Costa Rica is a transit and destination point for children trafficked for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution.[1138] Most trafficking victims originate from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Panama, as well as from Russia, the Philippines, Romania, Eastern Europe, and Ecuador. Although most foreign victims remain in Costa Rica, traffickers also attempt to transport them onward to the U.S. and Canada.[1139]

Education is compulsory and free for 6 years at the primary level and 3 years at the secondary level.[1140] In 2001, the gross primary enrollment rate was 108.4 percent and the net primary enrollment rate was 90.6 percent. Gross and net enrollment ratios are based on the number of students formally registered in primary school and therefore do not necessarily reflect actual school attendance. Recent primary school attendance statistics are not available for Costa Rica. As of 2000, 93.7 percent of children who started primary school were likely to reach grade 5.[1141] The proportion of children who drop out of school is higher in rural areas than in urban areas.[1142] Schools where there are high concentrations of immigrants are often over-crowded and many students are over-age for their grade or have lower skill levels.[1143] There are reports that the quality of education has suffered due to a lack of pre-school and secondary coverage, a high percentage of unlicensed teachers, infrastructure problems, and outdated curriculum materials.[1144]

Child Labor Laws and Enforcement

The Labor Code and the Children and Adolescence Code set the minimum age for employment at 15 years.[1145] The Children and Adolescence Code prohibits minors under the age of 18 from working in mines, bars and other businesses that sell alcohol, in unsafe and unhealthy places, in activities where they are responsible for their own safety and the safety of other minors, and where they are required to work with dangerous equipment, contaminated substances or excessive noise.[1146] Also under the Children and Adolescence Code, children of legal working age are not allowed to work at night or more than 6 hours a day or 36 hours a week.[1147] An industry adopted code of ethics prohibits children under the age of 18 from working in the banana industry.[1148]

Forced and bonded labor is prohibited under the law. The U.S. Department of State reported that these laws are enforced effectively.[1149] The Children's Bill of Rights states that all children and adolescents have the right to protection from all forms of exploitation, including prostitution and pornography.[1150] The Law Against the Sexual Exploitation of Underage Persons, approved in 1999, established penalties for those engaged in the commercial sexual exploitation of children.[1151] The Penal Code provides for a prison sentence of 4 to 10 years if the victim of prostitution is under the age of 18. The Penal Code also prohibits the entry or exit of women and minors into and out of the country for prostitution, and provides for 5 to 10 years imprisonment for those convicted of violating the law.[1152] In 2004, in order to protect children from being exposed to pornography, a decree was published on the regulation and use of establishments offering Internet services.[1153]

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for detecting and investigating labor violations, while the National Board for Children and the judiciary branch, which includes the Judicial Investigative Police and the Special Prosecutor on Sex Crimes, are responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases of child sexual exploitation. The Ministry of Labor carries out these responsibilities through the Office of Eradication of Child Labor and Protection of Adolescent Workers, and through the Office of Labor Inspection.[1154] The Ministry of Labor houses the Office of Eradication of Child Labor and Protection of Adolescent Workers, which is responsible for coordinating all direct action programs, maintaining a database on all workers under the age of 18, coordinating the implementation of the National Plan and public policy, and training labor inspectors on child labor.[1155] All labor inspectors are reportedly trained to identify and investigate child labor abuses.[1156] To deal with child labor on a local level, a labor inspector is appointed in each Regional Office of the National Directorate of Labor Inspection.[1157] Child labor investigations can be initiated after an inspection, or in response to complaints filed by government or NGO representatives, or members of civil society, including children and adolescents who are subject to exploitation.[1158] In 2003, the Ministry of Labor registered and investigated 638 child labor cases. From January to August 2004, the Office of Eradication of Child Labor reported that it registered 740 child labor cases in its child labor database, of which 350 were children working under the legal employment age of 15 years. The Ministry provided assistance in reinserting the children into education institutions.[1159] Due to limited resources, child labor regulations are not always enforced outside the formal economy.[1160]

The government has been enforcing its prohibitions against the sexual exploitation of minors by raiding brothels and arresting pedophiles.[1161] According to the government, in 2003, authorities made 14 trafficking-related arrests; all those arrested were detained on charges of child sexual exploitation.[1162] A number of sexual exploiters were sentenced in 2004, including two U.S. citizens.[1163] The National Institute for Children, in coordination with the Ministry of Security, carries out investigations aimed at capturing abusers and removing child victims of commercial sexual exploitation.[1164] Although the Government has been making efforts to raise awareness on commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking, and augment enforcement, a lack of resources has also hampered these efforts.[1165]

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

The "National Agenda for Children and Adolescents, 2000-2010," aims to prevent and eliminate the worst forms of child labor and achieve 100 percent retention of children in basic education by the year 2010.[1166] In addition, the Government of Costa Rica is implementing a national plan to eliminate child labor.[1167] The Government is also providing small loans to families with children at-risk of working.[1168] The Government supports a radio campaign aimed at raising awareness on the plight of street children, and stay-in-school programs are offered to child victims of trafficking.[1169] In April 2004, the government and Save the Children-Sweden launched an awareness-raising campaign against trafficking and exploitation at Costa Rica's Juan Santamaria International Airport.[1170]

The commercial sexual exploitation of children is recognized as a problem in Costa Rica and it is on the political and public agenda through discussion in presidential discourses, political debates, newspaper reports, editorials, studies, and other fora.[1171] During the past year, an Executive Decree established the Technical Secretariat General of the National Directive Committee on Child Labor, and its functions were outlined in Decree No. 31461.[1172] The government also approved a Master Plan on Children and Adolescents, which included a chapter on the commercial sexual exploitation of children.[1173] The Commission Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children established a sub-commission to specifically work on legal and enforcement issues.[1174]

The Government of Costa Rica is participating in several ILO-IPEC projects funded by USDOL. These projects include a project to combat child labor in the coffee sector,[1175] a regional project to combat child labor in commercial agriculture,[1176] and a regional project aimed at combating commercial sexual exploitation.[1177] The Government of Costa Rica is also participating in a USDOL-funded regional Child Labor Education Initiative Program aimed at strengthening government and civil society's capacity to address the educational needs of working children.[1178] With funding from the Government of Canada, ILO-IPEC is collaborating with the Government of Costa Rica to implement a Timebound Program. The Timebound Program focuses on creating an enabling environment at the national level to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, as well as direct action activities to withdraw children from work in the Brunca Region.[1179] ILO-IPEC is also carrying out a project aimed at raising awareness, collecting information, and providing direct attention to children involved in domestic work in the homes of third parties.[1180] In August 2004, in collaboration with the Costa Rican Soccer Association and the Costa Rican Union of Private Business Chambers and Associations, ILO-IPEC launched a national "Red Card Against Child Labor" awareness-raising campaign.[1181] The United States is supporting the Costa Rican Supreme Court of Justice with funds to establish an investigative and prosecutorial team specifically mandated to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Costa Rica.[1182]

In the area of education, programs have focused on the reintegration of child laborers into the education system. The Ministry of Education has been supporting ongoing efforts by providing scholarships for poor families in order for them to cover the indirect costs of attending school.[1183] Costa Rica is involved in an IDB program aimed at improving pre-school and secondary education.[1184] Costa Rica's Education Plan 2002-2006 includes strategies aimed at providing universal access to pre-school; improving the quality of primary school, especially in disadvantaged communities; increasing the coverage and quality of secondary school; and, strengthening open and flexible education opportunities for adolescents and adults who combine school and work.[1185] In April 2004, the Ministry of Education sponsored an "Education for All Week" in Costa Rica, in commemoration of the IV Anniversary of the Global Education for All forum in Dakar, where one of the issues discussed was the relationship between child labor and education.[1186]


[1131] Another 23.5 percent of children ages 15 to 17 years were also found working. See INEC, MTSS, and ILO-IPEC, Informe Nacional de los Resultados de la Encuesta de Trabajo Infantil y Adolescente En Costa Rica, San José, 2003, 33. For more information on the definition of working children, please see the section in the front of the report entitled Statistical Definitions of Working Children.

[1132] Ibid., 35. See also UNICEF, IV Estado de los Derechos de la Niñez y la Adolescencia en Costa Rica, San Jose,, 2004, 53.

[1133] INEC, MTSS, and ILO-IPEC, Informe Nacional, 42. See also U.S. Embassy-San José, unclassified telegram no. 2206, August 21, 2003. See also Casa Alianza, Kids that pick coffee: CRC's Article 28, The Right to an Education, [online] [cited March 25, 2004]; available from http://www.casa-alianza.org/EN/human-rights/labor-exploit/articles/coffee.phtml.

[1134] INEC, MTSS, and ILO-IPEC, Informe Nacional, 37-43. See also U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2003: Costa Rica, Washington, D.C., February 25, 2004, Section 6d; available from http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2003/27892.htm. See also ILO official Maria Luisa Rodriguez, electronic communication to USDOL official, October 29, 2004. Children can also be found bagging groceries at supermarkets. See U.S. Embassy-San José, unclassified telegram no. 0515, February 1998.

[1135] U.S. Trade Representative official, electronic correspondence to USDOL official, June 2, 2005.

[1136] According to the National Institute of Children (PANI), street children in San José, Limón and Puntarenas are at the greatest risk of entering prostitution. See U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2003: Costa Rica, Section 6f. See also ILO-IPEC, Explotación Sexual Comercial de Personas Menores de Edad en Costa Rica, San José, May 2002, 11, 15.

[1137] Maria Cecilia Claramunt, Sexual Exploitation in Costa Rica: Analysis of the critical path to prostitution for boys, girls, and adolescents, UNICEF, 1999, 29. See also ILO-IPEC, Stop the Exploitation: Contribution to the Prevention and Elimination of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Central America, Panama and the Dominican Republic, project document, RLA/02/P51/USA, 2002, 9.

[1138] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2003: Costa Rica, Section 6f. See also U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report – 2004: Costa Rica, Washington, D.C., June 14, 2004; available from http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2004/33198pf.htm.

[1139] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2003: Costa Rica, Section 6f. See also U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report: Costa Rica.

[1140] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2003: Costa Rica, Section 5. A tradition of free schooling dates back to 1869. See Infocostarica staff, Education in Costa Rica, infoCOSTARICA.com, [online] November 5, 2003 [cited March 18, 2004]; available from http://www.infocostarica.com//education/education.html.

[1141] World Bank, World Development Indicators 2004 [CD-ROM], Washington, D.C., 2004. For an explanation of gross primary enrollment and/or attendance rates that are greater than 100 percent, please see the definitions of gross primary enrollment rate and gross primary attendance rate in the glossary of this report.

[1142] Rodolfo Pisoni, Informe Sobre el Trabajo Infantil y Adolescente en Costa Rica, PANI, April 1999, 59. See also Raquel Gólcher Beirute, "Niños Esperan Mejor Educación: UNICEF Señala Debilidades en Lucha Contra Deserción," La Nación Digital (San José), September 20, 2000, [hardcopy on file]; available from http://www.nacion.com/ln_ee/2000/septiembre/20/pais8html.

[1143] Almost 90 percent of immigrants to Costa Rica are from Nicaragua. It is estimated that 250,000 Nicaraguans are permanent residents in Costa Rica and between 60,000 to 100,000 are temporary residents. See IDB, Costa Rica: IDB Strategy with Costa Rica 2003-2006, [online] 2003 [cited May 13, 2004], 3; available from http://www.iadb.org/EXR/doc98/apr/CRstra03E.pdf.

[1144] UNICEF, IV Estado de los Derechos de la Niñez y la Adolescencia, 33.

[1145] In 1998, Costa Rica passed the Children and Adolescence Code, which amended Articles 88 and 89 of the Labor Code to increase the minimum age for work to 15. See Jamie Daremblum, Costa Rican Ambassador to the United States, Submission to the US Department of Labor in Response to a Request for Information on Efforts to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child labor, Embassy of Costa Rica in the United States, September 6, 2002. See also Código de la Niñez y la Adolescencia, 1997, Article 78. See also Government of Costa Rica, Código de Trabajo, Articles 88 and 89.

[1146] Código de la Niñez y la Adolescencia, 1997, Article 94. See also Ambassador of Costa Rica to the United States Jamie Daremblum, letter to USDOL official, October 23, 2001.

[1147] Código de la Niñez y la Adolescencia, 1997, Article 95. See also U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2003: Costa Rica, Section 6d.

[1148] U.S. Embassy-San José, unclassified telegram no. 2293, August 25, 2004. See also U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2003: Costa Rica, Section 6d.

[1149] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2003: Costa Rica, Section 6c.

[1150] U.S. Embassy-San José, unclassified telegram no. 1977, August 2000.

[1151] Ministry of Foreign Trade, Submission to the U.S. Department of Labor of a Report and Comments on Child Labor Issues, official submission to USDOL Official, June 5, 2003, 5.

[1152] These provisions are found in Articles 170 and 172 of the Penal Code. See U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2003: Costa Rica, Section 6f. See also U.S. Embassy-San José, unclassified telegram no. 1977. See also Interpol, Legislation of Interpol member states on sexual offences against children: Costa Rica, [online] [cited March 18, 2004]; available from http://www.interpol.int/public/Children/SexualAbuse/NationalLaws/csaCostaRica.asp.

[1153] ILO-IPEC, Technical Progress Report, "Stop the Exploitation. Contribution to the prevention and elimination of commercial sexual exploitation of children in Central America, Panama and the Dominican Republic", Geneva, September 9, 2004, 13.

[1154] Jamie Daremblum, letter to USDOL official, October 23, 2001.

[1155] Ministry of Foreign Trade, Submission to the US Department of Labor of a Report and Comments on Child Labor Issues, 7. See also Esmirna Sánchez Vargas, "Costa Rica: retos y avances en la erradicación del trabajo infantil, Oficina de Atención y Erradicación del Trabajo Infantil y Protección del Trabajador Adolescente," Encuentros 4 Aportes (April 2002), [hardcopy on file]; available from http://www.oit.org.pe/spanish/260ameri/oitreg/activid/proyectos/ipec/boletin/numero4/paraeldialogotres.html.

[1156] U.S. Embassy-San José, unclassified telegram no. 2293.

[1157] Ministry of Foreign Trade, Submission to the US Department of Labor of a Report and Comments on Child Labor Issues, 6.

[1158] Daremblum, letter to USDOL official, October 23, 2001, 3.

[1159] U.S. Embassy-San José, unclassified telegram no. 2293. See also U.S. Trade Representative official, electronic correspondence, June 2, 2005.

[1160] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2003: Costa Rica, Section 6d.

[1161] Ibid., Section 6f.

[1162] U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report: Costa Rica.

[1163] ILO-IPEC, Technical Progress Report, Stop the Exploitation September 2004, 3.

[1164] Government of Costa Rica, Submission to the US Department of Labor of a Report and Comments on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Costa Rica, submitted in response to U.S. Department of Labor Federal Register Notice (July 14, 2004) "Request for Information on Efforts by Certain Countries to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor", Embassy of Costa Rica in the United States, August 23, 2004.

[1165] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2003: Costa Rica, Section 6f. See also U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report: Costa Rica.

[1166] The plan was established in September 2000. See Government of Costa Rica, Agenda Nacional para la Niñez y la Adolescencia: Metas y Compromisos, 2000-2010, San José, September 2000, 11, 21. The National Agenda includes all issues related to minors, is inter-institutional, and is promoted by the Council for Childhood and Adolescence. See Maria Luisa Rodriguez, electronic communication, October 29, 2004. In addition, the National Agenda defines dates for the fulfillment of specific objectives and actions. See ILO official Bente Sorensen, electronic communication to USDOL official, October 30, 2004.

[1167] This plan was developed in 1998 and evaluated in 2003. The second National Action Plan on the prevention and eradication of child labor and special protection of adolescent workers (2005-2010) was approved in 2004. See U.S. Embassy-San José, unclassified telegram no. 2725, October 2002. See also U.S. Embassy-San José, unclassified telegram no. 2206. See also ILO-IPEC, Technical Progress Report, Stop the Exploitation September 2004, 14.

[1168] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2003: Costa Rica, Section 6d. See also U.S. Embassy-San José, unclassified telegram no. 2293.

[1169] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2003: Costa Rica, Section 6f.

[1170] Government of Costa Rica, Submission and Comments on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Costa Rica.

[1171] ILO-IPEC, Explotación Sexual Comercial de Personas Menores, 11, 35.

[1172] The Decree was promulgated in September 2003. See ILO-IPEC, En Costa Rica se definen por ley las funciones del Comite Directivo Nacional para la Erradicacion del Trabajo Infantil, [online] 2003 [cited May 13, 2004]; available from http://www.oit.org.pe/ipec/boletin_cr/noticia.php?notCodigo=172. See also Decreto No. 31461-MTSS. The Technical Secretariat General fulfills a technical role, while the National Directive Committee on Child Labor fulfills a political role. The new decree mandates that coordination by the Technical Secretariat General be inter-institutional. See ILO official, electronic communication to USDOL official, October 29, 2004.

[1173] The Master Plan was approved in December 2003. See ILO-IPEC, Technical Progress Report: Stop the Exploitation. Contribution to the prevention and elimination of commercial sexual exploitation of children in Central America, Panama, and the Dominican Republic, Geneva, March 6, 2004, 3. The Master Plan is an institutional plan, promoted by the PANI in coordination with the Council for Childhood and Adolescence. See Maria Luisa Rodriguez, electronic communication, October 29, 2004. The Master Plan outlines specific activities to be carried out by the government to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children. See Bente Sorensen, electronic communication, October 30, 2004.

[1174] ILO-IPEC, March Technical Progress Report: Stop the Exploitation, 2.

[1175] This project was implemented in the municipalities of Turrialba and Guanacaste. The project closed in September 2004. See ILO-IPEC, Prevention and Elimination of Child Labor in the Coffee Industry in Costa Rica, COS/99/05/050, Geneva, 1999.

[1176] ILO-IPEC, Prevention and progressive elimination of child labor in agriculture in Central America, Panama and the Dominican Republic (Phase II), project document, September 30, 2003.

[1177] Though the project focuses primarily on awareness raising, institutional capacity building, and international and national coordination, this project targets 150 girls in Limón for direct services, such as education, social services, and health care. See ILO-IPEC, Stop the Exploitation, project document, 26-40.

[1178] USDOL, "News Release: United States Provides over $110 Million in Grants to Fight Exploitive Child Labor Around the World," October 1, 2004; available from http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/ilab/ILAB20041715.htm. See also USDOL/ILAB, ILAB Technical Cooperation Project Summary: Combating Child Labor through Education in Central America and the Dominican Republic, 2004. See also CARE, CARE's Work: Project Information, [online] 2004 [cited October 21, 2004]; available from http://www.careusa.org/careswork/projects/SLV041.asp.

[1179] ILO-IPEC, IPEC Action Against Child Labour 2002-2003: Progress and Future Priorities, Geneva, October 2003.

[1180] ILO official Rigoberto Astorga, electronic communication to USDOL official, September 16, 2002. See also Daremblum, Submission to the US Department of Labor.

[1181] U.S. Embassy-San José, unclassified telegram no. 2293. See also ILO-IPEC, Tarjeta roja al trabajo infantil (2004). The President of Costa Rica, the Ministry of Labor, and the National Directive Committee on Child Labor were actively involved in the launch of this campaign. See Maria Luisa Rodriguez, electronic communication, October 29, 2004.

[1182] U.S. Department of State, unclassified telegram no. 060346, Washington, DC, March 18, 2004. See also U.S. Embassy-San José, unclassified telegram no. 2293.

[1183] U.S. Embassy-San José, unclassified telegram no. 2293.

[1184] IDB, Approved Projects – Education, [online] February 23, 2004 [cited March 18, 2004]; available from http://www.iadb.org/exr/doc98/apr/apeduc.htm. See also IDB, IDB Strategy with Costa Rica 2003-2006, 28, 30. See also IDB, PLAN DE ADQUISICIONES: Préstamo 1010/OC-CR – Programa de Educación Preescolar y Tercer Ciclo, May 2, 2004 [cited October 28, 2004]; available from http://enet.iadb.org/idbdocswebservices/idbdocsInternet/IADBPublicDoc.aspx?docnum=307672.

[1185] Ministerio de Educacion Publica, Plan Educativo 2002-2006, [online] 2003 [cited May 13, 2004]; available from http://www.mep.go.cr/Plan Educativo.html.

[1186] ILO-IPEC, Se celebra en Costa Rica "La Semana de la educacion" en el marco del Foro Mundial de Educacion para todos, [on] 2004 [cited May 16, 2004]; available from http://www.oit.org.pe/ipec/boletin_cr/noticia.php?notCodigo=159.

Search Refworld

Countries