Too Young

Outside the Market - A place students are oten seen selling

My mother asked “Can you tell me what these children do for work? Are you talking about working around the house so a parent can work outside the home?”

Sorry Mom. These children are working in the market or other jobs to support their families. Today for example, I had to run errands between classes. I saw three girls from our school at small stands selling things on the street you see above. One had a tub of mangos she was trying to sell. That’s a tough business because there must be a hundred other people also trying to sell mangos. Why should someone buy yours vs. someone else’s? These girls who sell in the morning and will be in class in the afternoon.

There is a girl in one of the classes I teach. She is in her early teens. She’s a nice girl; I like her. She works as a waitress at a restaurant from early evening until after midnight, six days a week. Then she sleeps and rides the bus to school here in the city. After school, she rides the bus back home and starts all over again. She is paid “off the books”. Technically, she does not work there; if there is an accident, she will not be covered by workplace insurance.


Last Friday during an outing at the beach, a girl of about ten years old came by selling shells and shell art to tourists. An adult (parent) was not far away also trying to sell things. So why also have her sell shells? Well, she’s cute and cute sells. I bought this shell from her for two dollars. I hoped maybe it would help her and her family. Later, I wondered if that really helped her at all or just reinforced the idea of using cute children to sell things. In the end, I’m not sure my buying or not buying a shell influences much in the grand scheme of things.

The nature of the problem is well stated by “Families have no choice but to send their children to markets….The money brought home by children is often essential for these families’ survival. The constitution has provisions to regulate child labor, although they are often not respected.” This is not big companies exploiting these children; that is a separate issue. This is the simple economics of having a family here and the parents not being able to find jobs to support the family on their own.

Not all children work. When I go to the park after work, I often see children from school playing there. states it is more common in rural areas where there is more poverty. I’ve seen estimates of child labor at between 6-10%, but it’s difficult to put a number to it because it is illegal, and illegal activities are always under-reported. The real number could be much higher.

That is the nature of children working here in Santa Tecla. If we can help a child to get the education for a better job in life, then perhaps her children will not have to also work jobs to support their family before they should have to.

Children of el Salvador

13 thoughts on “Too Young

  1. loisajay

    That is a tough one–to buy something to support the child who is supporting her family, or to buy for the ‘cuteness’ of the selling. And this is a fact of life for the children?

    1. milfordstreet Post author

      It is. I was noticing yesterday that children too young for school often accompany parents to the markets. There is no day care. Parents have them do little tasks. They are being groomed to work the markets in a few years.

  2. Osyth

    The children will continue to work whether or not you buy from them. It’s tough to feel you are supporting that ethic but it will be what it is because life is tough for the people you walk amongst. The most important thing is that you are spreading the word. I feel educated and education is the most valuable thing of all if we are willing to learn. What is most humbling to me is that the children are prepared to put in such effort to get to school and learn – one must hope that this means they have more options down the line.

    1. milfordstreet Post author

      I hope so. You can see some have a good shot at it. The guy that manages the program here sponsors a summer school for those who are willing to put a in the effort and have the best chances to advance their education and life.

      1. Osyth

        I get awfully frustrated when people say ‘there’s no hope’ or ‘whatever I do will make no difference’. The fact is that if we all remain mindful, open to learning and willing to try then every little can and does help. Your example of this one man is a shining one and again I thank you for bringing the reality into my little world where my cogs are turning on what that little thing I can do might be. Enjoy the day silently pass my wishes for a better future to the people and children you are with

  3. bahelberg1

    It’s really difficult to view and grasp completely such a life so different than the ones many of us live. To appreciate the difference is much easier. To try do something to help is an overwhelming thought. You do a great service in bringing it all to us…Kudos!

    1. milfordstreet Post author

      Thank you for your comment and concern. Changing the system is overwhelming. But I think the program with which I’m working can change some lives. Cheers!

  4. Miss Gentileschi

    Thank you for this very informative and important post, Chris!! I don´t think that it made a difference on things in general when you bought that shell, but it definitely makes a change for this girl´s family! Although it´s not ideal to have children do such work, one has to accept that they don´t live in an ideal world. Moral principals are all well and good but people need to eat. Wish you a wonderful weekend! Cheers!


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