The number of children estimated to be working in manual labor in the Meta department, central Colombia, is double that of the rest of the country, an investigation revealed on Wednesday.
The investigation, conducted by the NGO Corporacion Encuentro, revealed that 18% of minors, out of a sample of 4,500, were working as manual laborers. Meanwhile, the average rate in the rest of Colombia is 9.2%.
In addition, more than 70% of the children surveyed stated they would rather continue to work than go to school – arguing they could learn a craft that way.
The majority of jobs employing under-aged workers are in construction (33%) and as street-vendors (38%).
According to Jeimy Barrera, the head of the project, the biggest threat is that posed by sex tourism; in the town of Villavicencio, 26% of child laborers admitted having been approached by sexual exploitation groups.
Thirty-three percent of minors younger than 17 have to help their family with expenses, explaining their urge to work.
This alarming proportion of child labor may have very serious consequences for the country, with 30% of child workers in Meta stating they have been “tempted” to join illegal armed groups or sexual exploitation networks.