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 Humanium.org. “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. Humanium.org 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.