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Child Labor, International Law, and the Politics of Decolonization in Bolivia

Friday, February 19, 2016
5:00 AM
1644 SSWB

In 2014, Bolivia made international headlines when it passed a new Child and Adolescent Code that lowered the minimum age for work to 10 years, in violation of international labor standards.  Proponents of the new law argue that children’s work is inevitable given widespread poverty, and that requiring the Bolivian state to monitor this work will ensure children are protected from exploitation.  Critics argue that legalizing child labor not only exposes children to a range of hazards, it impedes their education and hinders Bolivia’s development.  At the heart of this debate is the Union of Bolivian Child Workers (UNATSBO), who petitioned the Government for this right to work, citing their dignity and their need to maintain family incomes.  Equally prominent is President Evo Morales, who defended the UNATSBO’s demands in the name of Andean tradition.  Yet what are the dangers of championing children’s labor in the name of rights and dignity, and of claiming that international labor standards are a Western imposition from which Bolivia needs to decolonize itself?  What political-economic, ethnic, and racial realities are elided when such complex matters are framed in these terms?  At the same time, who should have the right to speak for whom?  And what viable options do children and the Bolivian state have in confronting this child labor/development challenge?  In this meeting of the Circulo Andino, we invite scholars of the Andes to weigh in on these questions and learn about how this issue shapes international policy-making on Bolivia.

Randall Hicks is an International Relations Officer at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs. He works in research and policy initiatives on human rights issues in the global economy.  He conducts research and authors reports on child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking in Latin America and regularly travels to the region to engage foreign governments on these issues. He was an NSEP Boren Fellow and Fulbright-Hays Fellow, and uses both Spanish and Quechua in his work. In addition, he taught at U-M in LACS and PICS.

This event is co-sponsored by Andean Circle (Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop).

Randall Hicks