Children's movements in Latin America

In Latin America, working children have been organising themselves in their own movements since the end of the 1970s and are now internationally networked. Their main goal is the recognition of their right to work and live in dignity.

Development of a movement of working children and youth in Latin America and the Caribbean

In Latin America, the first associations of working children were set up as early as the end of the 1970s to fight for their rights and to achieve better working conditions. The first children's movement with its own organisational structures was MANTHOC (Movimiento de Adolescentes y Niños Trabajadores Hijos de Obreros Cristianos) in Peru. MANTHOC was founded in the course of a strike movement when many children had to work to compensate for the loss of wages of their fathers. Today, there is a nationwide active, pluralistically conceived children's movement in Peru, to which more than 15 independent organisations of working children belong (MNNATSOP).

Since the 1980s, movements of working children have also emerged in other Latin American and Caribbean countries. In 1988 the first continental meeting took place in Lima, followed by further meetings about every two years. Delegates from the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Brazil also took part in these meetings. Today, the movements are mainly active in Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico and Guatemala.

In the Latin American movements, any child (usually up to the age of 16) who sees himself or herself as a working child can become a member. The movements are united in the conviction that, despite negative conditions, the work experience is a positive basis for social identity.

The Latin American children's movements joined together to form MOLACNATs (Movimiento Latinoamericano y del Caribe de los Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes Trabajadores). The continental movement has a joint secretariat, which is located in changing countries (currently in Paraguay, as of 2020), as well as various internet platforms, which enable the permanent exchange of experiences and the coordination of activities. The most recent X. continental meeting took place in 2018 in Asunción, Paraguay.

Respect and participation are self-evident

The basic elements of their self-image include the claim to be respected and to respect each other. It is also part of the conviction of these movements that by assuming economic and social responsibility, children are more likely than other children to develop the ability to shape their lives autonomously and to develop an awareness of their importance and their rights in society.

In order to characterise the active role of children in solving their problems, we speak of Protagonismo Infantil. This expresses the fact that children are not simply helpless victims of their situation, but out of necessity can become active subjects with their own wishes, ideas, opinions and suggestions. They must be taken seriously by adults and understood as equal partners. The idea of Protagonismo Infantil contradicts the widespread belief that adults know best what is good and right for children. However, the movements also explicitly demand the support of adults.

Work in dignity as an objective of MOLACNATs

In the Declaration of the VI Latin American Meeting held in Paraguay in 2001, the objectives of the movement are formulated as follows:

"We, the Latin American and Caribbean movement of NATs, believe that we have a right to work even as children. Work gives dignity to people as it is a practical form of learning, a source of education and family income. We are aware of the contribution we make to society as a whole. What we do not agree with are exploitative, exclusionary, discriminatory and violent working conditions. We continue to believe that education and health should be free and accessible to everyone, without exception or discrimination. Contrary to general opinion, we do not regard the use of children for drug trafficking, pornography or wars as "child labour", but as crimes against children.

We fight for the work of the children to be:

  • carried out with dignity and under good conditions;
  • recognised as a right and not imposed as a duty;
  • respected and protected by national laws;
  • not discriminated against and exploited.

Therefore we demand:

  • that production workshops are set up for working children and youth, where we can work and learn in dignity;
  • that neither Convention 138 ('minimum age') nor Convention 182 ('worst forms of child labour') of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are signed or ratified by our governments;
  • that working children and youth are no longer persecuted just because they work;
  • that jobs are created under good conditions for our parents and us;
  • that we have free access to a qualified training with pedagogically trained teachers, an education that leaves room for participation and protagonism.
  • We know that children's rights apply equally to all children. Therefore, we demand that we as NATs are involved in all discussions and agreements about problems that concern us.
  • We demand that we children and youth be perceived as legal subjects and not as objects, because the entitlement to rights exists for every person in the same way.


Website of MOLACNATS

Link list with other Latin American movements

Updated: 14.12.2020