Music as a strategy to prevent child labor in Colombia

January 11, 2022
Children from northern Colombia are learning how to play accordion, guacharaca, and the music box thanks to Pilares. (Credit: Pact)

More than 200 girls and boys from Barranco de Loba and San Martín de Loba (Bolívar, northern Colombia) have started musical studies. Learning how to play accordion, guacharaca, and the music box as a strategy for the prevention and mitigation of child labor and other unacceptable working conditions, especially in artisanal and small-scale gold mines, the agricultural sector, fishing and cattle raising. 

The initiative is implemented by Pact’s Pilares project with the support of the United States Department of Labor (USDOL). In Colombia, an estimated 5,000 children are engaged in mining. The Pilares Project has worked in Colombia from 2017 to mitigate child labor rates, supporting more than 50 small civil society organizations by building their capacities to combat child labor and improve working conditions.

As reported by the Integrated Information System for the Identification, Registration and Characterization of Child Labor and its Unacceptable Conditions (SIRITI), Bolívar is a department with the second-highest rate of child labor or children at labor risk: 1,983 cases identified as of December 2021, 955 of which correspond to the worst forms of child labor, including mining.

The data coincides with those of the Colombia Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF), where it is reported that as of October 2021, they have received 311 girls and boys from Bolívar through an administrative process for the reestablishment of child rights. 

"We had identified that child labor is one of the biggest problems that the territory is experiencing and that is why we included a component to prevent and mitigate it within the Municipal Development Plan," said Manuel Ramos Bayter, Mayor of Barranco de Loba, whose municipality donated more than USD $5,000 to the project. "We know that music, especially when it comes to something so deeply rooted in our culture as vallenato [a popular folk music genre], attracts children and allows us to get them out of difficult environments," he said. 

The Family Commissioner of San Martín de Loba, Laura Molina Fajardo, explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the likelihood of child labor. “The absence of spaces for the proper use of free time has become an added risk, because the schools have not returned to fully in-person classes."

The Mayor of Barranco de Loba added, “dropping out of school is the first risk suffered by girls and boys. Another issue is the access to drugs and alcohol since child labor provides them earnings. This alliance with the Pilares Solidarity Network helps us to strengthen strategies from different angles." 

Felipe Chaparro, Director of the Pilares Project at Pact, said "Now the great challenge is to make this initiative sustainable in the long term and to mitigate child labor in the region."  The five-year project concludes in March 2022. The sustainability of the results will only be possible if the Pilares Solidarity Network continues to work in a coordinated manner with the mayor's office, departmental and national governments, and with international cooperation entities, since they already have the knowledge and tools to continue transforming negative practices such as child labor in its worst forms.