The Effects of Aerial Spraying of Coca Crops on Child Labor, School Attendance, and Educational Lag in Colombia, 2008-2012
Since 1999, one of the main strategies the Colombian government has used to mitigate coca cultivation is to spray the crops with herbicide, which is carried out from airplanes. This paper evaluates the consequences of this strategy for rural households in areas where coca is cultivated, specifically the effects of aerial spraying on child labor and education. Since the areas where spraying takes place are fundamentally different from those where it does not, I use a two-stage least squares model, instrumenting for aerial eradication with the number of days high-speed winds in the municipality made spraying difficult. These were days in which the wind was one standard deviation above the municipality’s monthly average. This corrects for possible sources of endogeneity due to selection bias. The results of this study show that aerial spraying was associated with a one percentage point increase in the likelihood that children ages 12-17 would work instead of going to school. Crop spraying was further associated with a 0.15 percentage point increase in the probability that older siblings in families living in a coca-growing area would fall behind in school, and a five percentage point increase in the probability that younger siblings would drop out of school. Thus, the findings of this research, based on data that cover the period from 2008 to 2012, suggest that the war on drugs has the potential to generate new barriers to educational access for children who live in areas where aerial spraying occurs.