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Latin America: The Problem of Child Labor – Part II

Categories: Latin America, Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Citizen Media, Human Rights, Labor, Youth

Child labor is a sad reality in Latin America, and often many residents throughout the region become so used to seeing working children that they don't even realize it. Who has not used the services of a shoeshine boy or a young caretaker of cars? Awareness and steps are being taken to change all of this. In observance of the World Day Against Child Labor 2009 [1], which will be held on June 12, members of the Global Voices Latin American team helped to find related blog posts and links about this issue in their own countries for part two in this two part [2] series.

From Venezuela, the non-profit organization Muchachos de la Calle [es] [3] (Street Children) has been working to “develop citizens, through the teaching of artisan skills, in order to reduce the number of children and adolescents that live and/or work in the street” and shares its experience through its blog [es] [4]. Another organization, Observatorio de Infancia y Juventud [es] [5], is also working to “construct a social investigative organization in order to collect data that allows for the formulation and follow-up of public policies; as well as to receive complaints and provide support against the threat and violation of Human Rights of children and adolescents in Venezuela.”

The blog Periodismo Guayanés [es] writes about child workers who are the “last in line” [6]:

el hecho de que exista un número significativo de instituciones gubernamentales y no gubernamentales de atención a los niños, así como un ordenamiento jurídico favorable en la materia, no endosa el éxito, es necesario la implementación de los sistemas y el seguimiento de los mismos. Algunos expertos coinciden en que la anulación del trabajo infantil es viable, sólo si diseñan mayores posibilidades laborales para los adultos y sus comunidades, y que las soluciones están en brindar alternativas a las familias para que “rompan el ciclo de pobreza a través de cooperativas, y la adquisición de maquinaria agrícola, por ejemplo, no se sigan estancando los sueños de los más pequeños”. “Los costos de erradicar el trabajo infantil serían de 76 mil millones de dólares y los beneficios económicos netos para 2020 serían $330 mil millones de dólares. Es decir, habría un beneficio neto para la región si se eliminara el trabajo infantil” aseguraba en 2005, María Arteta, directiva del Programa Internacional para la Erradicación del Trabajo Infantil (IPEC) de la Organización Internacional del Trabajo.

the fact that there is a significant number of governmental and nongovernmental institutions that provide services to children, as well as a favorable legal framework in this field, it does not guarantee success, it is necessary to implement the systems and to follow-up. Some experts agree that the elimination of child labor is viable, only if there are better work opportunities for adults and their communities, and that the solutions lie with providing alternatives for the families so that they can “break the cycle of poverty through cooperatives, and the acquisition of agricultural machinery, for example, so that they do not continue to stagnate the dreams of the smallest ones.” “The costs of eliminating child labor would be 76 billion dollars and the net economic benefits for the year 2020 would be $ 330 billion dollars. In other words, there would be a net benefit for the region if there was the elimination of child labor ” claimed María Arteta, director of the International Program for the Eradication of Child Labor (IPEC) of the Organization International Labor Organization. in the year 2005.

Photo by David Sasaki and used under a Creative Commons license. http://www.flickr.com/photos/oso/3602948325/ [7]

Photo by David Sasaki and used under a Creative Commons license. http://www.flickr.com/photos/oso/3602948325/

A recent post from Mexican blogger Mario Luis Fonts describes the “atrocity of child labor.” He points out that families with low incomes, shortages, a lack of sound governmental policies, and even migration as some of the causes that lead children to this situation [es] [8]. In addition, Maricel Pérez on the blog Sinergia a.m. [es] writes a touching story of a child worker, Pablo [9]:

Más conocido como “Pablito”, este pequeño se levanta a las 6 a.m. y alista todos sus útiles. Camina muchas cuadras y en la calle de Corregidora, esquina con Universidad, deja todos sus herramientas de trabajo; cierra los ojos, ora y le pide a Dios “que me vaya bien hoy Diosito, no quiero quedarme sin un peso esta noche”. […]

Ya se acerca la noche, y Pablito sólo recibe $20 pesos, que seguramente es muy poco para los lectores; pero él dice que “me sirve para comprar una coca y unos tacos o unas papas de paquete en la tiendita de camino a casa; lo que me sobre se lo doy a mi mamá que trabaja aquí cerca en otra esquina”

Así puede ser la situación de varios niños que trabajan en diferentes calles de las ciudades mexicanas; unos pueden sufrir más que Pablito, otros menos que él. Lo que yo pueda decir sólo es un pedazo de lo que viven los que jamás son escuchados, los que gracias a un poca cantidad de pesos son auxiliados para sobrevivir; pero muchos no nos damos cuenta de su sufrimiento, de la realidad que viven aquellos seres, una realidad que parece ser distante a la nuestra, sin embargo, habrá que darse cuenta de que hasta que no nos preocupemos por escuchar a los demás; y por romper esa indiferencia hacia los otros; la situación de nuestro México no mejorará jamás.

Better known as “Pablito,” this small child woke up at 6 a.m. and prepared all of his items. He walks many blocks and on the street Corregidora at the corner of University Street, he leaves all of his work tools, he closes his eyes, prays and asks God “that all will go well today, I don't want to end up without a peso (Mexican currency) tonight” […]

Now comes nightfall, and Pablito only earned $20 pesos (approximately 1.50 USD), surely there sounds like very little for the readers, but he says “it helps me to buy a few tacos and a Coke or a packet of potato chips at the shop on the way home, what is left over I give to my mom who works here in another nearby corner “

This may be the situation for many children who work on different streets in Mexican cities; some might suffer more than Pablito, others less than him. What I can say is only a piece of how they live, and what might never heard, which thanks to a few pesos are enough to help them survive, but many of us do not realize their suffering, of the reality in which those human beings live, a reality that appears to be so distant from our own, however, we should become aware that until we do not sorry about listening to others and break this indifference towards others; the situation in our Mexico will never improve.

The blog Un Boliviano en Argentina [es], written by Juan Vasquez, a Bolivian immigrant living in Argentina posts a cultural question that discusses the problem inherent to culture and idiosyncracy [10]:

un tiempo atras en una conversacion con unos compañeros, discutimos por un tema puntual dentro de la colectividad, q es la del trabajo infantil. En medio de la charla una de las participantes dijo algo q me llamo muchisimo la atención….dijo: …”tenés q ver el lado cultural de la cuestión, alla en Bolvia también trabajan en las cosechas, las chacras, y los padres de esa forma les enseñan. Para ellos esa la unica forma de aprender todo lo q se refiere a la siembra y cosecha. En los talleres pasa algo similar, los chicos aprender un oficio y ayudan a sus padres”… Ese comentario me dejó mucho mas preocupado, ya q no solamente es un discurso q “naturalisa” esa forma de trabajo y explotacion sino q tambien ese mismo tema fué argumentado en el fallo de un juez argentino Oyarvide dijo q la forma de explotacion en la q los bolivianos trabajamos aqui se puede explicar como una especie de “Ayllu”.

a while ago in a conversation with some colleagues, we discussed a topic within the community, which is about child labor. Amid the talk from one of the participants, he said something that surprised me …. he said, “you have to see the cultural side of the issues, there in Bolivia they (children) work in the harvests, on the farms and that is how the parents teach them. For them, it is the only way that they can learn about sowing and havesting. In the work shops, the same thing happens, the boys learn a trade and help out their parents” … That comment left me very worried, and not only because of the rhetoric that “justifies” that type of work and exploitation, but that also the same argument was used by the Argentine judge Oyarvide, who said that type of exploitation in which the Bolivians work here can be explained like some sort of “Ayllu” (political and social units of indigenous life).

And finally from Peru, I add a post from my blog Globalizado [es] that I wrote, and contains facts and figures about child labor [11] in Peru that estimated that 1.8 million children are currently working. There are also rough estimates that the number could grow to 2.5 million children, according to a report in the news site RPP [es] [12].

Las causas y consecuencias [13] de esto son muchas, y dada la crisis económica no creo que haya mejoras en la situación. El Fondo de las Naciones Unidas para la Infancia apoya a los niños sin embargo no es suficiente. Basta con recordar desde los casos de los niños esclavizados en las zonas mineras [14] o las niñas que son víctimas de explotación sexual [15] a los niños mendigos [16] o los niños burrier [17] para saber que hay mucho por hacer en este campo.

The causes and consquences of this are many, and especially due to the economic crisis, I don't think that the situation will improve. UNICEF supports children, however, it is not enough. It is enough to remember the cases of the children enslaved in the mining areas [es] [14], the young girls who are victims of sexual exploitation [es] [15], the child beggars [es] [16] or the child drug mules [es] [17] to know that there is a lot left to be done in this area.

What can be done to help alleviate this problem in Latin America and around the world?

Special thanks to Luis Carlos Díaz [18], Laura Vidal [19], Issa Villarreal [20], and Eduardo Ávila [21] for their help with this post.