Tag Archive for: Nicaragua


Teen Workers May Be Dying to Produce Sugar in Nicaragua

By Deborah Andrews, Contributing Writer

Legal protections for children working in hazardous conditions in Nicaragua are robust on paper, but systematic publicity, implementation and enforcement of the law is missing. Nicaragua has ratified all of the core international covenants in regards to child labor and has passed national laws that clarify in which hazardous environments child labor is prohibited, but the positive impact of these has not become reality.

In 2015, La Isla Foundation produced a report entitled, ‘Cycle of Sickness: A Survey Report on Child Labor in the Nicaraguan Sugarcane Fields of Ingenio San Antonio’ which investigated child labor among Nicaraguan sugarcane workers.

Child sugarcane worker. Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky. Courtesy of Green America.

Child sugarcane worker. Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky. Courtesy of Green America.

Agriculture, particularly the rapidly expanded sugarcane industry, is one of the most hazardous sectors of the economy and child labor within it is widespread.

Nearly four in 10 Nicaraguan children live in poverty.  In rural areas poverty, affects 50% of children. The Teenage pregnancy rate is 23.3%. Only 49% of Primary School students successfully completed 6th Grade and over 72% of the population does not finish Secondary School. Child labor is a major problem in the country and a huge barrier to education, reducing life-time earnings for many individuals. Nicaragua is the only Latin American Country where school is compulsory only up to age 12, as opposed to age 15 in all others.

Although illegal for a minor to be employed in the sugarcane industry, child workers obtain employment through third party contractors with borrowed ID numbers. This precarious power relationship leaves children extremely vulnerable to exploitation. Workers reported various ways their salary could be reduced without cause or explanation.  Most workers were not told how much they would be paid before they started work and had no paperwork documenting their salary – increasing the likelihood of wage manipulation. Many workers were employed through third party contractors and with borrowed ID numbers (which they paid up to 2 days salary to the owner for) and some reported having their money stolen, with the threat of dismissal if they reported the theft.

Interviewing current and former sugarcane workers (ages 12-17 years) La Isla Foundation discovered several negative impacts on children working long-term in sugarcane: Their personal development, their health, their mental health and their access to education is restricted. Children often become introverted and are sadly deprived of the medical and psychological care they ultimately require. Feelings of inadequacy and frustration rob children of hope and the pressure of knowing their family depends on them to earn causes huge suffering.

The hazardous working conditions in sugarcane include an excessive workload (8-15 hours per day), excessive heat (often averaging 100 degrees Fahrenheit), little or no protection equipment, no training and completely inadequate access to water and rest. Interviewees reported symptoms of dizziness from dehydration, extreme fatigue, heat stress, fever and problems with urination. Nicaragua has the highest mortality rate from Kidney Disease within the Americas. In the most severely impacted agricultural areas of Western Nicaragua the incidence of Kidney Disease is an estimated five times that of the national average.

Chronic Kidney Disease of nontraditional causes (know as CKDnT) is the progressive, degenerative, fatal form of Kidney Disease that disproportionately affects agricultural workers due to the toxic mix of their hazardous working environment. It has resulted in the death of an estimated 20,000 workers in Nicaragua. The premature deaths of these primary provider adults often results in children being forced to replace them in sugarcane to make up for the lost family income, further exacerbating the problem of child labor in this industry.

Read more