By Andrea Vale
Most laborers in Peru are forced into a vicious cycle by circumstance. Faced with low-paying, high-intensity work, they have no choice but to make their children work as well. Having spent their lives neglecting education for labor, those children in turn grow up with no options for income besides low-paying, high-intensity positions – and so on. But in classrooms across one region, a handful of teachers are trying to break that cycle while the children are still young.
Passing out books every week in a tiny classroom that lies on the side of a dirt road, high up in the Andes overlooking the city of Cajamarca, volunteers are met with a crime that teachers would usually welcome – the children are trying to sneak out extra books so that they can read more.
Once each has a book the air is filled with high voices while they excitedly compare with one another, sometimes swapping between friends, exclaiming in thrill.
Each one of them is a child laborer.
The overwhelming majority work in brick yards, although some in nearby towns work loading and unloading carts of fruit from trucks in the crowded mercado; as construction workers helping to build houses by carrying cement and heavy tools; farm hands; maids; or simply wandering the streets for hours picking up bottles for recycling departments.
The miniature brick workers – all aged around six years old – rise at six in the morning and walk for several hours to get to their work sites. They spend all day in the mud, molding dirt into bricks; carrying loads into large, industrial ovens; hauling piles of finished bricks into trucks; and unloading the same loads in construction sites and crowded mercados.
It’s a job that consumes a child’s daily life, taking up any time that he or she is not in school. The work gradually eats in to school hours themselves more and more until the children eventually drop out completely around age 12, to allow themselves to spend more time working and earn a larger income. Unsurprisingly, almost all of them are constantly ill and malnourished.
The first week spent in the classroom, one volunteer picked up an unsuspecting-looking crossword puzzle and examined it off-handedly. What she found was a startling unintentional statement on the reality of child labor, a first-grader’s scrawl answering as casual vocab terms the names of laws and legal rights that ensured that his right to protect his body, and for adults to care for him and other children.
That disquieting intermingling of childish innocence alongside more menacing undertones characterized the classroom. Posters on the wall displayed ‘My Rights Are: A Family;” “My Rights Are: An Education;” and “My Rights Are: A Home,” with the same bright colors and cartoons that exhibited the ABCs in elementary school classrooms.
Antonieta, the teacher, smiled over them all from her place at the front of the classroom. She augmented to the atmosphere of cheeriness, taking time to sit with the children at their tables to ask them, “What story are you writing in your journal?”; “What do you think the moral of the book you’re reading is?”
When interviewed sitting on a log by the outhouse behind the classroom without any children around, however, her demeanor is notably more sober.
“Going to school is the most expensive right in Peru,” Antonieta said in Spanish, “According to the laws, they say, ‘No, school doesn’t cost anything,’ but in reality, they ask for money for everything.”
Antonieta told me that child laborers come from illiterate parents, ones without stable jobs. At best, mothers find occasional work as housekeepers, clothes washers and nannies, earning a salary of 100 soles a month (30 dollars), 200 if they’re lucky. Fathers are blue-collar workers, resigned by their lack of education to low salaries and career instability.
To earn an income even close to what it takes to keep a family surviving, everyone has to work – including the smallest members. An average income for a family in which mothers, fathers and children all contribute is about 400 to 600 soles a month – the equivalent of about 120 to 180 U.S. dollars.
And what does 400 to 600 soles a month look like? A house comprised of one room, at most two. Mothers, fathers, children, aunts and uncles, and grandparents all live together in their simultaneous bedroom, dining room and kitchen. And housed inside with them are farm animals and pets. As a result, these children grow up without independence, constantly stricken with stomach infections, colds and other detrimental diseases. The Cajamarca region holds the second-most place in Peru for youth malnourishment.
According to the International Labor Organization, there are 3.3 million child laborers in Peru, and a third of them are under 12 years old. 26.5% – almost 1/3 – of the Peruvian population between the ages of six and 17 are currently working, and those numbers are projected to increase greatly over the next few years. Though most of the younger half of child laborers attempts to attend school alongside their labor, children seem to drop out of school completely around age 12. For instance, among children who labor as domestic workers, only 2.3% of those aged 6-11 don’t attend school at all – as compared to 97.7% of those aged 12-17.
One brick site sits just down the road from the classroom. Unshielded from the sharp Peruvian sun beating down is a field of meticulously organized piles of industrial-sized bricks, intercepted in places by mounds of dirt and one massive brick oven. It isn’t hard to picture the ghosts of activity that had filled it only hours before – little hands straightening those piles of bricks; tiny bodies stumbling inside that oven carrying loads of mud stacked higher than their heads.
“Last week we gave dolls to the children,” Antonieta said. “They identify certain parts of the body where emotion is connected, where they feel happy or sad. Many of them couldn’t.”
When they first begin coming to classes, virtually all of the children have self-esteem so low that they are cripplingly shy and can barely speak to others. They are totally unable and fearful of expressing their thoughts and feelings.
“The children don’t have places for recreation. They don’t have places to be together with their friends, they don’t have places to do homework, they don’t have places to have conversations with their parents,” Antonieta said, “After coming to a few classes, they are more expressive. They are able to communicate their feelings, they communicate more with their families. They are improving in their studies. We have them write in journals. There was a little boy who brought his in and had written, ‘If (class) didn’t exist anymore, my dreams would be broken. My dreams would be dead.’ “
Antonieta began to quietly weep.
“A lot of children have written very good things, beautiful things,” she persisted, “‘There is so much hope with these children, that they’ll be able to learn and grow, and they come here and they get that hope.”
She says that reading “will help tremendously with their knowledge, increase their abilities, and they will not be taken advantage of so easily. They will be able to defend their own rights.”
Antonieta says that of the 250 children enrolled this year, 200 have left work, and the rest have reduced their hours at work.
“There is still a lot of work to do,” Antonieta says. “We’ve made progress, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Published on IPS on June 28, 2018
The Mozambican government will benefit, over the next three years, from grants of 1.2 million US dollars to strengthen the fight against the worst forms of child labour, particular in the areas where tobacco is grown.
To this end, the Ministry of Labour and the End Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT) signed in Maputo on Wednesday a memorandum of understanding to create a platform of interaction to strengthen the rights of children, particularly those in situations of poverty and vulnerability.
Labour Minister Vitoria Diogo told the signing ceremony that the memorandum is a response to the government's concern at the scenario of thousands of children involved in the worst forms of child labour in Mozambique, endangering their healthy development.
The government was therefore seeking "partnerships nationally and internationally so that we can put into practice measures that will restrict the worst forms of child labour".
She noted that, across the globe, about 68 million children are involved n work regarded as dangerous, and it is the responsibility of governments and their partners to take measures ensuring that children grow up, are educated and work in a healthy environment so that they become citizens useful to society.
"It is important to bear in mind that children are not banned from working, but it has to be work appropriate for their age", she said. "They must work in preparation for becoming useful citizens, they must work but continue to be children".
Parents and guardians, Diogo added, should consider that children must go to school. They can help their parents, but must also have time to play and to be children
It is hoped that implementation of the memorandum will lead to mass publicity for the first government approved list of jobs dangerous for children.
The ECLT Executive Director, David Hammond, said his organisation is attempting to eliminate child labour in the tobacco growing areas. ECLT has been working in Mozambique for over ten years, trying to eradicate child labour in the western province of Tete.
"We want children in these areas to have access to education and to everything else that other children do", he said.
The National Director of Labour, Isabel Mate, explained that the project will cover such areas as community education and training, awareness and communication, institutional capacity building and revising the legal framework.
"Through this project, we want to implement professional training programmes to benefit the households affected by the worst forms of child labour, particularly those involved in tobacco growing, so as to guarantee funds and alternative sources of income", she said.
Mate added that influential members of the community and other authorities will be trained in questions of child labour and awareness-raising messages will be broadcast on the community radios in Portuguese and in local languages.
Within ten days the two parties to the memorandum will set up technical teams to draw up a plan to put the memorandum into operation.
According to a study undertaken by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), in 2017 there were about 1.4 million children involved in child labour in Mozambique.
Child labour is at its worst in informal mining, the carrying of heavy goods, commercial agriculture, particularly in the cotton and tobacco fields, informal trade, fisheries, and sexual exploitation.
Published on All Africa on June 28, 2018
By Raluca Besliu
The walls of the vodun convent in Anfoin, a small village in the West African country of Togo, were painted with images of vodun and Hindu divinities. The 80-year-old mamissi, the convent’s head priestess, waited in a chamber covered in photos of her predecessors and depicting various vodun gods, whose cult she carries. Hers is one of many vodun convents spread across Togo, Ghana and Benin, where the West African traditional religion is amply practiced.
Vodun is an African religion that first appeared at the end of the 16th century on the shores of the Mono river, which separates Togo and Benin. The religion revolves around the adoration of the god Mawu through intermediary divinities represented in earthly objects. Father Bruno Gilli, an Italian priest who has lived in Togo for more than 40 years, explained that vodun divinities are separated into three main categories — celestial, sea and earth — based on the part of the world that they are responsible for. The world’s happiness is dependent on their collaboration.
To preserve and perpetuate the religion, children, both girls and boys, are introduced to the mysteries of vodun at a young age. Lasting one year, the initiation takes place in the convents, where the children are trained in worshipping one or several deities. Most children must remain in the convent for four months, after which they can return to their families and finish the initiation from their homes.
By Amy Harmon and Alan Blinder
State lawmakers across the country are moving to raise the minimum age to marry, out of growing concern that lax marriage laws may be contributing to sex trafficking and to children being forced to marry against their will.
Delaware became the first state to ban marriage for anyone under age 18 when the governor signed the measure last week. In the other 49 states, current law allows minors to marry, generally with parental consent or judicial approval. At least 20 states have no minimum age set by statute.
But over the past two years, seven states have raised their minimum marriage age to 16 or 17, and at least seven more are considering legislation to tighten their rules.
By Frederic Byumvuhore
Rwanda Peace Academy, Save the Children, and Rwanda National Police, among other stakeholders, on Thursday discussed how to scale up training for officers deployed in peacekeeping missions, especially on the component of protection of children's rights.
This was during a one-day meeting in Kigali yesterday.
A 2017 report by Save the Children, titled, 'The war on children', shows that the number of children living in a conflict zone has increased by more than 75 per cent from the early 1990s when it was around 200 million, to more than 357 million children in 2016.
This, according to the report, implies that at least one in six children lives in a conflict and that 165 million of these children are affected by high intensity conflicts.
Children living in such conflict-impacted areas often lack access to school and health facilities, and are more exposed to violence.
Rwanda is one of the world's fourth largest troop contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions.
The country deploys military, police and civilians to restore peace in several troubled parts of the world.
According to experts, the higher the number of peacekeepers a country deployed, the more efforts and investment is needed to enhance the capacity of outbound troops on how best to safeguard the rights of children before they embark on their mission.
There is an approved curriculum on children's rights that serves to build peacekeepers' capacity on how to protect the rights of children in areas of conflict.
Methode Ruzindana, the Director of Research Department at the Musanze-based Rwanda Peace Academy, said that as a country that has made significant progress in human rights protection, including children's rights, Rwanda can replicate its own experience in areas where it has peacekeepers.
According to Anthony Njoroge, the Regional Senior Programme Manager at Save the Children International, protection of children's rights during armed conflict should be an issue of concern to all and more efforts should be invested to address it.
"We have a standardised curriculum and training packages in the region to enable deployed peacekeepers play an effective role in rescuing the lives of children during the hard times of insecurity. People to be deployed should go through child protection courses, " Njoroge said.
He said that Somalia and South Soudan are some of the African countries where child abuses are common, while Boko Haram, a terrorist group that operates across several West African countries, is among the leading violators of children's rights.
Njoroge added that violent extremism is becoming a complicated issue because it also presents a dilemma for peacekeepers. "Children are being used by terrorists. These are serious cases which need utmost attention from peacekeepers," he said.
Published on All Africa on May 18, 2018
By Haley Britzky
Despite the U.S. spending nearly a billion dollars to better education in Afghanistan, girls are still falling behind.
The big picture: The newly released quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reports that the USAID had "disbursed approximately $979 million for education programs in Afghanistan" as of April 18. But per SIGAR, the World Bank said "progress towards increasing equitable access to education, particularly for girls, was only 'moderately satisfactory.'"
How girls are faring
The Human Rights Watch reported in October that "the proportion of Afghan girls who are in school has never gone much above" 50%, despite the 2001 invasion being "partly framed" for helping Afghan women.
The bottom line:
"Make no mistake: Education in Afghanistan is much more equitable today than it was during the Taliban era, when girls were barred from going to school... Unfortunately, you still have a number of societal constraints, rooted more in the dominance of patriarchal views than in the decisions of the Taliban, that keep a number of girls from having access to education."
— Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Wilson Center's Asia program
Published on Axios on May 6, 2018
By ISMIRA LUTFIA TISNADIBRATA
Women’s rights activists in Indonesia are pushing President Joko Widodo to issue a presidential regulation that will make child marriage illegal in the country, where its prevalence is one of the highest in world.
They recently submitted their proposed draft of a presidential regulation to Widodo, in lieu of a law to prevent and abolish early marriage on Friday, Apr. 20.
Presidential spokesman Johan Budi, confirmed to Arab News that the meeting took place in Bogor Palace.
Naila Rizqi Zakiah, a public attorney from Community Legal Aid Institute and one of the 18 activists invited to meet with him, said they raised three issues: Child marriage, the bill to amend the criminal code, and the bill against sexual violence.
“The first issue the president responded to was child marriage,” Zakiah told Arab News. “We asked him to issue a presidential regulation in lieu of a law to prevent and stop child marriage. We’ve come up with a draft, and we submitted it to him for his perusal.”
She said Widodo responded “positively” to the proposal after they explained to him that child marriage could deny children their basic human rights and hinder national development.
“We submitted this draft because we think rampant child marriage in the country is an emergency situation, while the procedure in Parliament to amend the articles on the minimum age to marry in the marriage law could be lengthy,” Zakiah said.
The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection has urged Parliament to prioritize amending the 1974 marriage law to raise the minimum age for females to marry to 20 and for males to 22.
The law requires parental permission for those under 21 who want to marry. The minimum legal age for women to marry is 16, and 19 for men.
Parents can request a legal exemption from a religious court to marry children younger than that, with no limit on the minimum age.
Women’s and child rights activists have been advocating to raise the minimum legal age for females to marry to 18, in line with the child protection law that categorizes those under 18 as minors.
“It’s still not the ideal age to get married, but would be the minimum (acceptable),” Maria Ulfa Anshor, a commissioner for the Indonesian Child Protection Commission, told Arab News.
“We’ve been waiting for so long for this move, especially since the risks and dangers of child marriage, such as the high maternal mortality rate, are so real,” she added. “I hope there will be no more child marriage, because the courts give exemptions to do so.”
The Constitutional Court in June 2015 rejected a request to review the marriage law and raise the legal age for girls to marry from 16 to 18.
According to UNICEF, child marriage in Indonesia is rampant, with more than one in six girls, or 340,000, getting married every year before they reach adulthood.
Child marriage is most prevalent among girls who are 16 and 17, but there has been a decline among under-15s.
The debate about banning child marriage resurfaced following media reports of a 14-year-old girl and her 15-year-old boyfriend in South Sulawesi province who sought an exemption from a religious court to get married, which they obtained. They reportedly got married on Monday.
Published on Arab News on April 24, 2018
By Stephanie Cajigal
A new report by UCLA Fielding School of Public Health researchers found that approximately 78,400 children in the U.S. are or have been married.
Although all states in the U.S. set 18 as the legal age minimum for marriage, exceptions to the minimum can be granted in every state under varying conditions, including parental consent and official approval.
“The United States invests public resources to prevent child marriage abroad while continuing to permit it domestically,” said the study’s lead author, Alissa Koski, a postdoctoral scholar at the Fielding School. “This inconsistency between foreign policy and domestic laws has generated surprisingly little attention.”
Researchers analyzed data collected between 2010 and 2014 from the American Community Survey, which asks about the marital status of teens ages 15 to 17.
They report that an average of 6.8 of every 1,000 girls and 5.7 of every 1,000 boys had been or were married at the time they were surveyed. Prevalence differed by state: More than 10 per 1,000 children were married in West Virginia, Hawaii and North Dakota, and fewer than four per 1,000 children were married in Maine, Rhode Island and Wyoming. The study also found that child marriages were highly unstable: Nearly a quarter of children were already separated or divorced before the age of 18.
At least 14 states have or are currently considering changes to their minimum-age-at-marriage laws that would further restrict the marriage of minors, but some of the proposed legislation has been met with strong opposition.
The study was published online by Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health and will appear in the journal’s June issue.
Published on UCLA News on April 17, 2018
By Helene Christensen
“We are equal to boys and can also contribute to society,” said 17-year-old Lidia Suale Saide. Lidia knows what it means to stand up for these beliefs. One year ago, she refused her mother’s attempt to marry her off. She said she wanted to become a doctor instead.
“I want to become independent and free of the harms and expectations placed on girls in my community,” she told UNFPA recently.
But many girls in Mozambique are not able to avoid marriage. Child marriage is widespread in the country, with 48 per cent of women aged 20-24 reporting they were married before reaching age 18.
Child marriage often pushes girls from school, and it leaves them vulnerable to abuse and early pregnancies, which can cause lasting harm or even death.
Child marriage and teen pregnancies are closely linked: In Mozambique, some 46 per cent of girls aged 15-19 are either pregnant or already mothers, according to 2015 data.
But Lidia is helping to change these trends.
She is now a mentor in Raparinga Biz, a UNFPA-supported programme that has mobilized tens of thousands of adolescent girls to learn about their sexual and reproductive health and human rights, as well as about citizenship and life skills.
This knowledge is helping girls advocate for themselves and each other: Within the programme’s first year, only 1 per cent of the 23,500 adolescent girls involved were married before turning 18.
Tackling gender inequality, violence
Raparinga Biz, which translates to “Busy Girl,” was launched in May 2016. It has so far reached 94,000 girls and young women. Over 2,300 girls have been trained as mentors.
The programme directly takes on one of the root causes of child marriage and teen pregnancy: gender inequality. Girls discuss the importance of equality, empowerment and human rights.
“Our society is portraying girls and women as inferior, and it is influencing our confidence and value,” said 16-year-old Assma Cassam Ismali, one of the programme’s young mentors. “As a mentor I want to support girls to value themselves.”
Too often, gender inequality takes the form of violence against women and girls. Even school can be an unsafe environment. Seven in 10 girls in Mozambique know of cases of sexual harassment and abuse in their schools, a 2013 UN report indicated.
“My teacher has been harassing me for a year,” Maria* told UNFPA. “One time he forced a sexual relation with me in a classroom. I feel ashamed and blame myself. He is HIV positive, and I fear what more can happen.”
Maria is another of the new mentors trained under Rapariga Biz. She spoke about her experience during a mentors’ training session on human rights.
She wants to help other girls stand up for themselves and their rights, and to help girls seek justice if abuses do occur.
Former child bride advocates change
The resilience of mentors like Maria and Lidia is one of the programme’s strengths. Mentors are able to draw from their own experiences, as well as their training, when educating and advising other girls.
Lucia*, from Angoche District in Nampula Province, was pressured by her family to become the wife of a man who was already married. As an orphan, Lucia had little support in opposing the marriage. She ultimately married him against her wishes.
She was miserable, and after much negotiation with her extended family, she managed to leave the marriage.
Today, she focuses on her studies and advocates for change as a Raparinga Biz mentor.
“I want to inspire girls to marry out of love and choice,” she said. “We cannot be obliged to marry against our will. I hope my story can inspire adolescent girls in my community to choose who to marry at the right time.”
Raparinga Biz is led by the Government of Mozambique, with technical support from UNFPA, UNICEF, UNESCO and UN WOMEN. The programme receives funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, along with a contribution from the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.
It aims to reach 1 million girls and young women by 2020.
Published on UNFPA on February 15, 2018
The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the rights that must be realized for children to develop their full potential, free from hunger and want, neglect and abuse. It reflects a new vision of the child. Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development. By recognizing children's rights in this way, the Convention firmly sets the focus on the whole child.