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Low Levels of Social Protection and Statistical Invisibility Increases the Vulnerability of 55 Million Indigenous People

LIMA (ILO News) – The crisis caused by COVID-19 has highlighted the vulnerability in which more than 800 groups of indigenous people in Latin America live, and increased the challenge of extending social protection systems throughout the region, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said today.

“The crisis has disproportionately affected indigenous peoples, highlighting the pre-existing barriers they face in accessing health care and social security,” the new report, prepared by the ILO’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, said, noting that this was “a consequence of historical discrimination and marginalization.”

“Pre-existing gaps in access to social protection have placed these peoples in a situation of increased vulnerability framed in the pandemic context,” it added.

The study, Labour panorama of indigenous peoples in Latin America: Social protection as a route to an inclusive recovery in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, aims to present an overview of the socioeconomic characteristics of indigenous peoples in Latin America and their access to social protection.

There are almost 55 million indigenous women and men in the region, “representing 8.5 percent of the total population” of Latin America.

The report warns that “there are global trends that are reproduced in the region, such as the over-representation of indigenous peoples in the informal economy and among the poorest, low access to decent work, as well as obstacles to their access to education and political participation.”

It notes some important trends among indigenous peoples, including the growth of the indigenous population living in urban centres. Currently approximately 52 percent of the indigenous population lives in urban areas and 48 percent in rural areas.

Migration to urban areas is driven partly by the search for better income generation opportunities and partly by factors such as dispossession from land, climate change, ecological deterioration and displacement due to conflict and violence.

Looking at employment; the ILO data show that 85 percent of indigenous women and men in Latin America and the Caribbean are employed in the informal economy, well above the rate for the general employed population, of around 50 percent.

Indigenous workers are also more likely to be self-employed or unpaid family workers than the rest of the population. According to available data 16 percent of working-age indigenous people are in unpaid family work, by contrast the percentage for their non-indigenous counterparts is four percent.

Indigenous peoples’ wages are just 33 percent of those earned by non-indigenous people, making Latin America the region of the world with the largest labour income gap.

The data compiled by the ILO comes from information collected in national household surveys. Even so, of the 18 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that provided information from household and employment surveys, only eight included information on whether respondents belonged to indigenous peoples; Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama and Peru.

The report says this generates a situation of “statistical invisibility”, which constitutes “the first step in a sequence of unequal treatment that this segment of the population may receive.”

“Since they are not represented in official statistics, it is more difficult to include them in the indicators of countries’ development goals, and their condition of well-being is less likely to be the subject of public policies,” the report warns.

Guaranteeing access to decent work opportunities for indigenous people, as well as access to social protection, are decisive steps towards correcting the situation of procrastination, the report says.

In terms of social protection, the region’s indigenous peoples are less likely to contribute to schemes or receive benefits than non-indigenous peoples, and they also have less access to health systems, the report says. At the same time, “in the countries analysed, indigenous women and men are more dependent on social assistance systems than their non-indigenous counterparts”.

Faced with this socioeconomic scenario the ILO considers that “the establishment of social protection systems, including social protection floors, that take into account the particularities of indigenous peoples is essential to narrow the gap of inequalities and vulnerabilities that affect them.”

The document recalls that ILO Recommendation No. 202  indicates that social protection floors should include at least the following four basic guarantees:

  • Social protection for children: family and child benefits
  • Social protection for women and men of working age: maternity and disability benefits; protection in the event of industrial accidents, occupational disease and unemployment; invalidity pensions; sickness benefits
  • Social protection for elderly women and men: old-age and survivors’ pensions
  • Health protection

The need to ensure greater social security and health protection for indigenous peoples is also clearly established in the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169) .

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region that the highest number of ratifications of this international standard, accounting for 14 of the 24 ratifications.

Source : ILO