Study of child labor in El Salvador

El Salvador's Ministry of the Economy released the results of its 2009 study of child labor in Salvadoran households. You can download the complete study at this link. The study is an attempt to measure the level of child labor in El Salvador and the attitudes and circumstances which which contribute to it.

The study defines child laborers as children who had worked for at least one hour in the previous week, paid or unpaid, whether for wages or payment in kind, including working in a family enterprise such as a farm or a food stand. The study surveyed 20,000 households in the country.

The 2009 report found that roughly 10% of children between the ages of 5 and 17 were working, totalling roughly 189,000 children in El Salvador. The percentages ranged from 1% of children between the ages of 5-9, 10% of children between ages 10-14, and 24% of children between the ages of 15-17.

The report notes the following characteristics of child labor in El Salvador:
  • 60% of child workers live in rural parts of the country.
  • 73% of child workers are boys.
  • 40% of the children who work do not attend school.
  • About half of the child workers are found in agricultural work.
  • The great majority (64%) of child workers are unpaid help working for their families.
  • Children who work are generally a year behind their age peers in school.
  • A lack of financial resources was the main reason parents cited for their children not finishing school.
  • In 69% of the households where there is a child working, the head of the household had not finished primary school.
  • In 68% of the households where there is a child working, the head of the household is a single mother.
Families in poverty have to make tough choices. Sometimes the choice is that school is less important than doing some work which might help put food on the family table. Since poverty is greatest in rural areas of El Salvador, it is not surprising that we see child labor more prevalent there. Programs which help lower the cost of school, and which help provide resources to families led by single mothers or parents with little education, can contribute to a reduction in the number of children who must spend part of their childhood working.


Linda said…
I think it might be helpful to compare the numbers of working children in El Salvador with the numbers in the US. This might stimulate additional thinking about how we understand the role of working children within families, the impact of work on education, and rural/suburban/urban differences.
Tim said…
Good question Linda. So far I found statistics about kids working between ages 14 and 15, showing that a much higher percentage work in the US than work in El Salvador. The number in the US is greater than 50%. Check out