2 million in child labor in Peru
Posted on March 13, 2007 by swyves
It is almost midnight, and three little silhouettes are moving through the streets of Lima’s center looking for cardboard and plastic. Ada (11), Luis (8) and Carla (6) are siblings. For half an hour we accompanied them on their nightly walk, after convincing them that we are not police of people asking for unusual favors. Ada told us that the family lives off collecting refuse and that they have to do their part, even though that means that they are one or two years behind at school.
More than two million children and adolescents work in Peru, according to conservative figures from the national statistics institute INEI. The figures are low because they exclude under 14s, those working in illegal activities or domestic service, and those who usually work but are currently inactive.
Nor does the state have a clear idea of the level of education in this shadow population, although a study by the
Lima city government and official body Cesip estimates that 7,000 children work in the historic center and that 95% are behind in their studies, by an average of three years. Around 30% have no high-school education.
It is also likely that among the official figures on pupils having to repeat school years (14%) and truancy (7% in six- to eleven-year-olds, 29% in eleven- to sixteen-year-olds) are thousands of stories of children who have to sacrifice their education in order to go to work.
A few days ago, a meeting of mayors called by the Municipality of Lima to start a campaign of returning children to schools, opened a necessary debate on the relationship between education and child labor.
NO DEFINED POLICIES
Peru has ratified ILO (International Labor Organization) conventions 138 and 182, thus forming a commitment to define policies to combat child labor, in particular in its most serious forms. However, the state still lacks a defined policy towards the education of working children. It presupposes that children and adolescents should not work, but recognizes that the poverty of some families can only be addressed in the medium and long term.
Its response is the creation of the Alternative Basic Education (EBA), a modification to the General Education Law of 2003 that accepts children of up to nine. Meanwhile, the Ministry for Women has intervened with a program that seeks to help child laborers stay in or get back into school by reducing their hours of work.
The EBA addresses adults, teenagers and children who could not attend school or who need to strike a balance between work and education. Its aims are those of the Regular Basic Education, but with an emphasis on preparation for a working life.
National EBA director Armando Ruiz has stated that more than 40 EBA centers were formed as part of an experimental phase started in 2005; last year it benefited 14,343 children and teenagers. However, it is not known how many of them made it through the course. ILO official Liliana Vega said that the flexibility offered by these centers in an attempt to ensure that no children miss out on the chance at an education may serve only to make permanent the inequalities that the program aims to solve.
“Employers can fail in their obligation to provide time and opportunities for children’s education,” she said. In a study by the development analysis group Grade, it was found that education programs for child laborers ought to incorporate monitoring in the students’ workplace to identify situations that could jeopardize education.
The National Plan for the Eradication of Child Labor (2006-2010) includes the goal that at least 50% of local governments make a register of child labor, allowing officials to determine where children are working in dangerous environments. So far, there has been no apparent progress.
FEWER WORKING HOURS
If a child worker is to attend school, they must work fewer hours each day. This is one of the problems being addressed by the government programs Street Teachers, which has been running for 14 years.
It concentrates on children who work on the street, identifying them and trying to give them the incentive they need to return to school. The program is active in 17 cities in Peru, but budget cuts have left it able to help only 3,000 children each year.
With a similar philosophy, Lima’s city government is starting its own program this year to get working children from the historic center back into schools. It includes aid payments worth a total of 320 soles ($100) for each child each year.
We are left with a landscape of programs with different focuses and forces, which have yet to define a way for child laborers to change their lives.