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Wednesday, June 13, 2018, 12:11
Venezuelan children fall victims of child labor in Colombia
By Reuters
Wednesday, June 13, 2018, 12:11 By Reuters

John Alexander, 5, carries freshly made bricks to lay them in the sun to dry so they can later be fired in a homemade oven at his family brick works in the slum area of Soacha on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia, 13 January. This family manages to produce about 1,000 bricks every two weeks which they can sell for US$80. Colombian laws prohibit minors under 16 from working but the practice is common in poor families where every member must help just to make a living. (MARCELO SALINAS / AFP)

BOGOTA —  A campaign by Colombia to eradicate child labour discovered nearly 5,000 children working in the past three months, including hundreds from economically stricken Venezuela, the government said on Tuesday. 

Children toil in homes, mines, fields and factories, carrying heavy loads, working long hours and suffering exposure to pesticides and other toxic substances

While child labour rates have fallen in recent years, overall about 850,000 children aged 5 to 17 are estimated to be working and not attending school full-time or at all, government figures show. 

Of the 5,000 cases of child labour found, more than a third were uncovered by government mobile units on farms and streets, while under half were reported through a free telephone hotline, according to Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF). 

Under Colombian law, children under 15 are not allowed to work and no child can be employed in a hazardous job that poses a risk to health or life. 

"We have found children working in markets, in public spaces, at the traffic lights, in rural areas," Karen Abudinen head of ICBF, told media on Tuesday. 

The ICBF has identified 350 Venezuelan children who were victims of child labour in Colombia since March, particularly in those provinces sharing a border with Venezuela, Abudinen said. 

In Colombia's northern border city of Cucuta, Venezuelan teenagers can be seen working as street vendors, and young children beg with their parents on sidewalks. 

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About 672,000 Venezuelans have crossed into Colombia, legally and illegally, since 2015, according to Colombian authorities, fleeing economic turmoil and severe shortages of food and medicine. 

Those migrating to Colombia without passports and work visas are vulnerable to labor exploitation, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) in Colombia has said. 

Six-year-old Cristina (right) prepares to push a wheelbarrow which her her father Alvaro (left) fills with clay for brick making at a quarry in the slum area of Soacha on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia, 08 January. (MARCELO SALINAS / AFP)

Along with poverty, driving child labour rates are local cultural attitudes. Work is seen as building character, as a normal part of development and as a responsibility children have to contribute to the home. 

Abudinen called it "a cultural problem that we can't ignore." 

The concerted public awareness campaign against child labour began in February, which also aims to encourage people to come forward and report cases of children working. 

"Child labour is a factory of inequality because a child who works does not have the same opportunities as those who are studying," Abudinen said in a statement. 

Globally, 152 million children aged 5 to 17 are victims of forced labour, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). 

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Seven-year-old Jose lays ready-for-sale home-made bricks at the family brickworks in the slum area of Soacha on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia,  08 January. Jose, who has been helping out at the family business since the age of five, is one of many children who have to work before the legal age limit of 16 in order to help their families survive. (MARCELO SALINAS / AFP)

Children toil in homes, mines, fields and factories, carrying heavy loads, working long hours and suffering exposure to pesticides and other toxic substances, it said. 

"Their very lives can be at risk," the ILO said in a statement on Tuesday. 

The ILO said latest figures show from 2012 through 2016 that almost no progress was made on reducing child labour among the youngest aged 5 to 11, and the number of young children in hazardous work has increased.

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