La Paz (AFP) - Bolivia passed a law Thursday authorizing children to work from age 10, saying the rule is necessary due to realities in the impoverished country where kids join the labor market prematurely.
The reduced legal limit has come under fire from critics who said it opens the door to allowing more children to work from a younger age.
The International Labor Organization is investigating the law, amid fears it breached global rules.
Vice President Alvaro Garcia signed the measure into law at the Quemado presidential palace in the absence of President Evo Morales, who was traveling to Brazil.
"We have just passed a law we had to develop because of the reality in Bolivia," Garcia said in a signing ceremony attended by representatives of children's organizations.
"It would have been easy to pass a law in line with international conventions but it would not apply because Bolivia's reality has other needs and characteristics."
Under the new law, the minimum age for employment is 14 years, though exceptions are granted under specific circumstances for children to work from age 12 for an employer and from age 10 if self-employed.
Bolivia's previous labor code permitted no exceptions to a minimum age of 14, which ILO rules allow developing countries to adopt instead of the global limit of 15.
The new law was approved earlier this month by parliament. Morales, a leftist, is a former subsistence farmer and trade union activist.
Bolivians often work from an early age out of necessity. Many of the youngsters are employed in agriculture or as street hawkers.
By reducing the legal limit, lawmakers hope to help eradicate the extreme poverty and other conditions that lead to child labor from the South American country by 2025.
The law also sets a penalty of 30 years in jail without pardon for adults causing violent infanticide.