Bolivian Youth: In Harm's Way

Grade-schoolers in Bolivia toil away at construction sites and garbage dumps. They shine shoes and sell candy on the streets.

Often they do so with government approval. In 2014, Bolivia passed a law setting the world's lowest minimum age for child labor. At 10, children are allowed to work for themselves or their families. Once they hit age 12, they can work for others. NGOs that work with child laborers say some are exploited or sexually abused. Others wind up living on the streets, plagued by crime, violence, addiction, and prostitution.

Bolivian law also allows children up to age six to live with their parents in dangerous prisons. Inmates have raped and killed some kids.

Missing children abound. Justice is elusive. In 2018, Bolivia ranked 29 out of 30 in the region in the World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index, which measures such things as security, corruption, justice, transparency, and accountability.

"It has gone from bad to worse, unfortunately," Cochabamba lawyer Rolando Ramos said. "Today the justice situation is terribly bad."

In Jail, But They've Committed No Crime

In Bolivia, hundreds of children live behind bars with their imprisoned parents. "Jail is not the best place to grow up," a government official told reporters, but at least families stay together.

His Sister Missing, a Man Waits in Anguish

Zulma Corhuari, 16, stepped out for a moment to get an aspirin for her headache. Her family never saw her again. Her brother Victor is desperate and suspects the worst. "There's no justice," he said.

Deadly Habits Passed Along to Children

In Bolivia, entire families are surrendering to cheap drugs—lethal and mind-altering concoctions of glue, gasoline, and paint thinner. The problem is growing and there's no solution in sight.

Saving Souls and Resisting Temptation

Ivan Ramirez runs an orphanage near Cochabamba. He started with one child—"a delinquent in miniature," Ramirez called him. More children arrived and the orphanage grew. "It was God's plan," he said.