Five million children working in Brazil

It's all work and no play for five-and-a-half million kids in Brazil, but improvements are continuing to be made, officials say…

Brazil has 5.4 million children in the ranks of its workforce, reports the annual IBGE's 2002 Pnad (the Brazilian Institute of Statistics' National Household Survey).
The five-million-strong magic number represents 12 per cent of those with ages ranging from five to 17. Two million were between the ages of five and 14.

A whole one million of these working kids between the ages of five and 17 are not going to school; 300,000 of them are less than nine years old.

The report records a mere one per cent drop in the number of working children from 2001 to 2002.


In 10 years, however, there was a considerable decrease in the number of kids at work.

In 1992, 19 per cent of Brazil's kids were working. That same year, 12 per cent of children between the ages of five and 14 already had a job.

Ângela Jorge, IBGE's coordinator for work and employment, says the improvement has been due to greater government intervention.

It is illegal for a child to work in Brazil until he/she is 18 years old. There is an exception, however, for apprentices who might be hired if they are 15 or older.

Glaring contrasts

The new numbers released by IBGE reveal a country full of contrasts and surprises:


  • One million children between the ages of five and 17 are working and cannot go to school;
  • Nearly 32 per cent of Brazilian homes have no basic sanitation while 61 per cent have a telephone;
  • One per cent of the richest people make more money than 40 per cent of the poorest.
  • While inequality of income distribution improves, unemployment and bad working conditions worsen.
For the most part, these children are unpaid and work the fields. About 59 per cent of five to 14-year-old kids work in the agricultural sector.

Basic sanitation

According to Pnad, 18 per cent of houses in Brazil don’t have running water and 32 per cent no septic tank and are not linked to public sewers.

If the numbers look bad, they seem a little better in 1992, when 26 per cent of Brazil’s homes had no running water and 43 per cent no sewer.

As for trash collection, there was a dramatic improvement in a decade. While in 1992 one third of all residences didn’t have their trash picked up, this number has fallen to 15 per cent in 2002.

The jump in electricity was even bigger. The number of houses without electricity fell from 11 per cent in 1992 to three per cent, 10 years later.

Telephones and computers

The most dramatic increase, however, occurred in the number of telephones.

While in 1992, only 19 per cent of Brazilians owned a telephone line, last year the figure had soared to 61.6 per cent.

Curiously, nine per cent of Brazilian homes had only a cell phone and no wired phone.

This boom followed privatisation of telecommunications, a sector entirely owned by the government until 1997.

More Brazilians are now buying computers, which first appeared in the IBGE’s 2001 survey. That year 12 per cent of Brazil’s families had a computer at home.

In 2002, 14 per cent of Brazilian homes had computers.

Between 2001 and 2002, the number of home computers grew by 15 per cent, while there was a 23 per cent growth in the number of houses connected to the Internet.

In 2002, 10 per cent of Brazilian residences were linked to the Internet.

Income gap

Inequality is substantial. Forty per cent of Brazil’s population had an average monthly salary of R$163 (US$54).

Those on the top, on the other hand, made an average of R$6,636 (US$2212) a month.

The IBGE study also showed that more than half (53.5 per cent) of Brazilian workers received only two minimum salaries a month last year.

A mere 1.3 per cent earned more than 20 minimum salaries. The minimum wage is R$240 a month, or around US$80.

The inequality also appears when different regions of the country are compared.

While the average monthly wage in the Southeast was R$713 (US$238), in the Northeast it stood at R$303 (US$101).

The average income of Brazilians fell 2.5 per cent in 2002. Workers made an average of 636 reais (US$ 212) a month in 2002.

The previous year the average salary had been R$652 (US$217). The calculation takes into account the inflation for the period.

Women continue to receive less than men doing the same job. In 2002, women were making only 70 per cent of their male counterparts’ wages.

Men were earning an average of R$661 (US$220) while women received R$419 (US$140).

In 1992, it was even worse, with women workers receiving only 61 per cent of men’s pay checks.