Dominican Republic working to eradicate child labor

The number of children working in dangerous or illegal jobs fell 14% in the past 10 years in the Dominican Republic – a remarkable turnaround from just a decade ago, when the country was called out for its high rate of child labor, The Costa Rica News reports.

Officials lauded the findings by the Labor Ministry. The numbers “showed a significant downward tendency,” said Labor Minister Francisco Domínguez Brito at a media conference announcing the results. Officials did not provide a total estimate of children working because the results were still preliminary.

The nationwide survey of 8,540 children age 18 or younger conducted between 2009 and 2010 found more children are also going to school even if they are working. Brito said 89% of children who work are also studying.

The country is on its way to meeting its goal of eliminating the worse forms of child labor by 2015 and wiping out the practice entirely by 2020, Brito said. He pointed out that the government has made the issue a priority and is working closely with United Nations agencies to reduce the practice.

While officials said there was room for improvement, the results were a welcomed change from the situation in the Caribbean country just a decade ago when the last survey was conducted.

That survey, released in late 2000, found that 436,000 children between the ages of 5 and 17 were working – a figure representing 18% of the nation’s youth.

But the country has taken substantive steps to address the problem. In 2002, the government created a unit within the labor department dedicated to combating child labor. The unit took a holistic approach, launching publicity campaigns on TV and radio to raise public awareness of the problem. It also employed inspectors to check on employers.

In 2006, the government launched a 10-year strategic plan that laid out several new approaches, including offering more training opportunities for children who had dropped out of school and focusing more on reducing poverty.

The International Labor Organization (ILO), an affiliate of the United Nations, recognized the country’s “strong commitment” to reducing child labor. But ILO Deputy Regional Director Virgilio Levaggi said “eliminating it will be a difficult task, especially in times of economic crisis like we currently see in the country.”

The Dominican Republic is certainly not the only country with a child labor problem. International labor groups have estimated hundreds of millions of children work, often against their will, in farms, factories and in informal economies throughout the world.

About 215 million children worldwide – most between 5 and 17 years of age – are holding down jobs, including 14.1 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the ILO.

Children are often pushed into dangerous or illegal jobs out of economic necessity or, to a lesser extent, as the result of human trafficking.

Ricardo dropped out of school after the sixth grade. Two years later, Ricardo, who refused to provide his age or last name, spends his days shining shoes for pocket change at a popular seafront park in Santo Domingo.

“What else can I do?” he asked as he raised his arms.

He explained his family can’t afford food and he must earn money to help his mother pay the bills.

In the Dominican Republic, the sight of children shining shoes, working on street corners or on farms has become common.

A survey by the government in 2006 reported 60% of respondents found it reasonable for children to work as long as it doesn’t interfere with their education or well-being.

Brito said the government and society must work diligently to help eliminate the practice.

“We should feel ashamed that there’s a huge number of boys and girls still working in conditions that risk not just their health but their development.”

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