May 20, 2015

Poverty as a driver for child labor in Nicaragua

As leaders meet this week in Korea for the World Education Forum 2015, with a focus on the key themes of the right to education, equity in education, inclusive education, quality education, and lifelong learning, The Guardian presents an insight into what drives young children in Nicaragua to leave education and enter the labor force.

Children in Nicaragua are only obliged to attend school until the age of 12, and, in 2009 (the latest year for which data are available), only 72% of children finished primary school. This number falls to 65% when looking specifically at children from the poorest 20% of families, compared to 98% from the richest homes.

In 2014 Nicaragua signed up to the ILO’s “roadmap” to eradicate the worst forms of child labor by 2016, and all child labor by 2020. Nicaraguan officials also claim that eradication of child labor is a priority for the current government. However, business leaders estimate that there are currently between 250,000 and 320,000 child workers in Nicaragua, with one in three under the age of 14.

Manos Antoninis, a senior analyst at Education for All, believes that raising the compulsory schooling age in Nicaragua would send out a powerful message about the importance of education, producing a knock-on effect in the way families see their own responsibility in keeping children in school, but others disagree. Philippe Barragne-Bigot, Unicef’s representative in Nicaragua, believes that it is “Quality, flexible education and jobs [that] will keep children in school, not a change in the law.” He reasons that children drop out of school as a result of the cycle of poverty, and due to the combination of poor-quality education and the chronic lack of economic opportunities, which make school seem pointless.

Our author Eric V. Edmonds has explored the subject of child labor from the perspective of regulating the minimum age of employment, the dominant tool used to combat child labor globally. He acknowledges that minimum age regulations are not a useful tool to promote education and asserts that policy should consider the root causes of child labor. He suggests that coordination with compulsory schooling laws has the greatest impact on reducing child labor, and notes that large declines in child employment have been documented when poverty is moderated.

Read more here.

Related articles: 
Does minimum age of employment regulation reduce child labor? by Eric V. Edmonds