Costa Rica registers the lowest number of child workers in Central America, the International Labour Organization (ILO) reported on Friday, although the agency said more efforts are needed to keep kids in school.
According to Costa Rica’s National Household Survey, 47,400 minors aged 5-17 – totaling 4.6 percent of Ticos that age – currently work in some type of job.
Representatives from the Labor Ministry, the ILO and the Telefónica Foundation discussed the report during a forum held in San José ahead of the celebration of the World Day Against Child Labor, on June 12.
Some 70 members of child protection and aid groups attended the event.
The majority of working minors in Costa Rica are employed in agriculture, street vending and other commerce. Nearly 41,000 work in trades that are prohibited for minors, and some 25,000 teenagers aged 15-17 work jobs considered dangerous, the report adds.
Esmirna Sánchez, the Labor Ministry’s director of workers’ protection, said officials are aware that there likely are more cases, as working minors usually do not admit they are being paid for certain jobs when questioned by ministry inspectors.
Formal complaints do not seem to be helping, either. Costa Rica’s Child Welfare Office receives an average of only six complaints per month of child worker cases, according to the agency’s executive president, Ana Josefina Güell.
Participants in the forum agreed to outline by next year a plan for making Costa Rica a country free of child labor, with clear and specific goals by the year 2020. The ILO and Telefónica Foundation also pledged to support the plan technically and financially.
“It is urgent to eradicate this scourge that keeps pushing children away from the classrooms and sends them into a reality that is not consistent with the stage of life they are supposed to be living,” Labor Minister Víctor Morales said.
“These kids should be in school enjoying their childhood and forging a better future instead of risking their health, their physical and mental development,” he added.
ILO representatives noted that Guatemala currently has the highest child labor figures in the region, with at least 850,000 working minors, followed by Honduras with 350,000, Nicaragua with 240,000, El Salvador with 163,000 and Panama with 50,710.