LA PAZ – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized several Bolivian laws claiming that they authorize child labor and encroach on human rights, and asked President Evo Morales to immediately change the norms.
According to a report sent to Efe by the organization, rights of freedom of expression and association, that of children and guarantees of due process are under risk because of four norms adopted by the Bolivian president over the last four years.
“President Morales and a majority of his legislative party have enacted a series of rules that constitute a major setback for human rights in Bolivia,” HRW director for Americas Jose Miguel Vivanco said on Monday.
Vivanco added in a statement to Efe that Bolivia will assume its international legal obligations in the region once it joins the UN Human Rights Council next year.
“When Bolivia becomes part of the council, Morales said that being a part of it brings more responsibilities towards human rights. If this is true then reforms in the laws means assumption of increased responsibilities,” said Vivanco.
HRW sent a letter to the president asking for an immediate change in the laws including the “Code for Children and Adolescents,” which came into force in July and allows employment after ten years of age, provided the child asks for it.
The approval of the norm made Bolivia the world’s first country to legalize child labor.
Around 850,000 minors work in the country, of which 87 percent are employed in hazardous jobs and 77 percent are not paid as they work to help their families, according to Ombudsman’s office data.
A report by the United Nations Children’s Fund said that 58 percent of minor employees are less than 14 years of age.
The Bolivian president has publicly defended child labor, saying it creates social conscience, although he called for measures to control it to avoid exploitation.
Another law adopted in 2013 was also criticized by HRW.
The law is considered to be overly broad to regulate the activities of civil society organizations, undermining the right to freedom of association and the independent work of human rights defenders.
The presidential decree regulating the law allows officials to dissolve civil society association as it could lead to arbitrary decisions with political motives, according to the report.
The law has mainly affected non-governmental organizations which, according to Morales, have been conspiring against the government.
Shortly after the warning, Bolivia expelled the Danish NGO IBIS accusing it of intolerable political and division of indigenous social organizations.
HRW also said that the law against racism and discrimination in the country threatens the right to freedom of expression.
The report added that the measure was approved in 2010 and gave the authorities the power to unfairly censor the media.
Another law questioned by HRW is the one created in 2013 by the Service for the Prevention of Torture that “lacks the independence required by international law” due to the criteria used to appoint the entity’s director.