La Paz 2017

Final declaration of the International Forum "Public Policy with Working Children: Experiences and Perspectives from the Global South" in La Paz, Bolivia, 16 to 18 October, 2017

Declaration of La Paz

For the global defence of the dignity and good life (Buen Vivir) of working children

In the framework of the International Forum "Public Policies with Working Children: Experiences and Perspectives from the Global South", organised working children and youth, researchers and representatives of social organisations from four continents gathered in La Paz, Bolivia, from 16 to 18 October 2017 to discuss the practice, concepts and challenges of protecting, defending and promoting the rights of working children. The organisers of the Forum made the following statement:

We live in a world that continues to be dominated by powers that devalue, exploit, destroy, enslave and torture Mother Earth and the human life that is founded in her. In the face of this system of brutal exploitation, it is a mockery to speak of perspectives of "decent work" for the millions of people on the planet who are deprived of their rights and whose dignity is violated day after day. An economic model that does not expand the possibilities of employment and work continues to serve the privileges of some at the expense of the vast majority.

The discourse on child labour that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) cultivates obscures the dehumanising reality of the neo-liberal economic system and the logics of exploitation allowed and supported by states. The new wave of explicit or implicit slavery which is sweeping the world cannot be blamed on the work of millions of children, but is rooted in the logic of globalised capitalism. This capitalism takes advantage of the expulsions and impoverishment that it has caused itself to force people to accept even the worst work in order not to starve.

The continued failure of abolitionist policies and practices of criminalising poverty and working children and their families calls into question the legal institutionality of the ILO. They make the situation of children a private matter instead of treating it as a public matter which should be dealt with by the state. This reality obliges the ILO for ethical and political reasons to ensure the protection of working children, regardless of whether they have reached the minimum age for employment decreed by the ILO.

As long as the ILO does not pull itself together to critically reflect and revise its policies, it will continue to play with the lives of millions of working children and remain deaf to its demand for a policy of states that protects their rights. It remains to be noted that despite an explicit invitation to participate in the Forum, the ILO has once again refused to listen to organised working children. This is coupled with the evidence of the contempt which this international organisation is showing once again when it announces that it will have abolished all forms of child labour by 2025. According to the latest ILO report (Global estimates of child labour. Results and trends 2012-2016), we will still have 121 million child workers in 2025 ("children in child labour"). This makes the strategy of abolition seem like a chronicle of announced failure. It means that there will be several generations of working children for a long time in this century. What will happen to them? What will the ILO do? Will it continue to deny them any form of social recognition, condemning them to social invisibility?

In view of this deaf, arrogant and dogmatic attitude, the attitude of the Plurinational State of Bolivia deserves recognition for having resisted all international pressure in defence of its sovereignty to revoke the Children and Youth Law (Law No. 548), which gives priority to the protection of working children over the abolition of child labour. However, its implementation faces important challenges, including the following:

  • (a) Extending and consolidating the capacity of the ombudsmen (defensorías) to act to protect children's rights, without limiting their role to the granting of work permits;
  • (b) Enabling and facilitating the participation of working children in children's and youth committees;
  • (c) Strengthening the municipalities' capacity to act to ensure adequate implementation of the law.

In view of the "IV. World Conference on the Sustainable Elimination of Child Labour" to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 14-16 November, we accuse the ILO of once again refusing to allow working children to attend. By refusing to listen to them, it is violating their civil and political rights, in particular the rights to participation enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The obvious limitations and failure of current policies towards working children have already created too much suffering and violations of children's rights. It is time to radically change this policy by taking up the experiences and demands of working children and building a better future with them.

The Movements of Working Children and the organisations and people who accompany them join th(e struggles of social movements and peoples who defend dignity, the Good Life (Buen Vivir) and human rights in different parts of the world.

La Paz, 18 October 2017

Updated: 14.12.2020