Saturday, December 01, 2007

Working children

Classes in most primary schools finished in early November and won’t begin again until the beginning of February. It’s vacation and so there are more kids on the streets. This also means there are more kids working.

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning I walk from my house to the campus of the Catholic University. I often pass a small construction site where, during the last few weeks, at least three young boys are working. One of them greets me, “Ola, abuelito,” “Hi, grand-pop!” I appreciate the greeting but the presence of these kids doing adult work bothers me. I have seen any number of kids under 12 years old working on construction sites, shoveling sand, carrying large rocks or pails of sand, and other hard work.

November to February also happens to be coffee harvest time. Some folks go out to work on their small coffee plots but many – adults and children – will work for others on larger coffee plantations during these months. One young man told me how he has been going out for many years – even as a child – removing the ripe coffee berries from the trees. For many families this is one of the very few ways people in the countryside earn money.

I know that even in the United States kids work, especially on family farms. But there are laws which are enforced that prevent child labor and that place restrictions on the types of work kids can do. Here there may be laws but forget about enforcement.

The kids are probably working to help their families survive. But child labor is another of the side effects of poverty and of an economy that does not work for the poor.

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