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2011-03-17

Paraguay struggles to eradicate child labor

Julio, 14, can make as much as $40,000 guaraníes (US$9.38) a day shining shoes in downtown Asunción. (Marta Escurra for Infosurhoy.com)

Julio, 14, can make as much as $40,000 guaraníes (US$9.38) a day shining shoes in downtown Asunción. (Marta Escurra for Infosurhoy.com)

By Hugo Barrios for Infosurhoy.com —17/03/2011

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – Julio, 14, does not know what going to school is like.

What he does know is going to work.

Julio, whose identity is being withheld for his protection, is a shoe shine boy.

He is among the 338,833 Paraguayans between the ages of 10 and 17 who are part of the national workforce, according to the 2004 Permanent Household Survey, carried out across the country by the Statistics, Polls and Census General Direction (DGEEC).

His 10-hour work day starts at 7 a.m. at the corner of Independencia and Luis Alberto Herrera streets, a busy intersection in downtown Asunción. For a day’s work, Julio can make around $40,000 guaraníes (US$9.38).

“I have never been to school,” the youth, who lives in the densely-populated neighborhood of Barrio Obrero, said. “I have been working in the streets since I was 10; I have no time for anything else.”

“Each client pays $2,000 guaraníes (US$0.46) for a shoe shine,” Julio said. “With that money I help my parents and my older brother.”

One of every 7 children or teenagers who work in Paraguay doesn’t go to school, according to the Permanent Household survey.

Stunted Growth

Andrea Cid, a childhood-protection official at the Paraguay headquarters of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that if urban conditions are already tough on children like Julio, child labor is even more of a problem in rural areas, because it involves strenuous physical activity.

“In the countryside the conditions are alarming, such as with those children who work in the olerías (bricks and roof tiles factories) in Tobatí, a city nearly 40 miles east of Asunción. In these workplaces they lift very heavy bricks, they toil crouching or kneeling down for hours on end, and in the sun,” said Cid.

According to the UNICEF official, the Paraguayan government has classified these types of tasks as the worst form of child labor, together with the conditions of those children working in the railroad tracks of Concepción (a city more than 300 miles north of Asunción).

“In places like these it is common for a child to lift a bag weighing anywhere between 45 and 65 lbs,” she said. “It’s not only harmful to their lungs when they inhale the lime, but also the excessive loads stunt their growth.”

Statistics from the Permanent Household Survey indicate that in the rural areas of Paraguay, 23 of every 100 people between the ages of five and 17 are involved in some economic activity. In urban areas, the percentage is lower: 13 of every 100 children or adolescents perform some type of work.

Cid said that Paraguay, compared to other countries in the region, clings to the peculiar practice of having children live like “little domestic employees” in the homes of other families. Known as the criadazgo, this form of servitude takes place when the parents hand off their child to another family so the young one gets food and education in exchange for household work.

“This is something you don’t see any more in the other countries of the region, or at least not as much as here,” Cid said. “These children go to those homes, to families that are not theirs, to do domestic chores without any compensation. They do it in exchange for a roof over their head, for food and education.”

According to the Permanent Household Survey, Paraguay has 60,298 “indentured servants” between the ages of five and 17, whose work is recognized by the government as “a danger to minors.”

“As part of what constitutes domestic servitude, the criadazgo should get special attention because it is invisible and dangerous,” warns the report.

Confronting it

Looking for ways to reduce child labor, the government of Paraguay implemented in April of 2005 the “Abrazo” (Hug) Program, which currently operates out of 14 centers around the country.

Today, more than 2,000 children are being helped under this program, which is sponsored by the Paraguayan Secretary for Childhood and Adolescence (SNNA), with support from UNICEF-Paraguay.

After being chosen by a team of social workers, the children are provided meals as well as remedial schooling and recreational activities at the Abrazo centers. Their relatives sign a document stating they will no longer send their children out to work in the streets, in exchange for which they get a monthly stipend in food and money.

“The Open Center [of the Abrazo Program] is an alternative for children so they no longer need to be out in the streets working. In our center, the children eat breakfast, get remedial tutorial help, eat lunch and then go home,” said Julia Tintel, district director for the program’s Open Center No. 3, which is located in Asunción’s Ricardo Brugada neighborhood and now serves more than 60 children in social risk.

Tintel said that the children who get assistance from the Abrazo centers do so in accordance with their school schedules.

“If they go to school in the morning, for instance, they’ll come here in the afternoon,” she said. “To have access to the program, they must attend school and the parents must be committed to fulfilling this requirement.”

The official indicates that the financial compensation given to the parents is proportionate to the number of their children enrolled in the program.

“The maximum amount of assistance they can get comes to $220,000 guaraníes a month (US$51),” Tintel said.

“Most of the children belong to families whose work is combing the streets looking for objects that can be recycled, such as plastics or cardboard, and then selling them,” she said. “The children would go along with their parents, whether it was in the afternoon or evening, to scavenge for these things.”

Tintel added that “these children are also out selling bingo tickets, shining shoes in the squares, or selling soft drinks in the streets”

The impact

Tintel believes that among those children participating in the Abrazo Program, the number of hours they work in the streets has dropped sharply.

“In some cases, the children stopped working altogether. There are minors who perhaps have not fully stopped working, but they have considerably reduced the hours they spend doing so,” said Tintel.

Ami Cabrera, of the Abrazo Program’s press office, explains that one of their greatest long-term objectives is to increase the number of children with access to the benefits.

“Last year, Abrazo was declared a ‘model program’ within the government’s Program for Social Development. This proclamation reflects the goal of increasing from two thousand to 5,630 the number of children who receive assistance,” Cabrera said.

“This increase will be achieved incrementally, while the number of centers in operation goes from 14 to 19,” she added.

“Abrazo is a program that respects the rights of children. This wasn’t the case before; instead there was a time when these children were forced to go to some home or shelter. Abrazo is trying to give undivided attention, since it not only provides services to the children but to their families as well,” said Cabrera.

The spokesperson said that in 2010 the Abrazo Program received funding totaling $11,058,416,638 guaraníes (about US$2.5 million).

“To continue with its childhood protection programs this year, the SNNA has a budget of 49,225,428,395 guaraníes (US$11.5 million), compared to the 40,700,141,634 guaraníes (US$9.5 million) it received in 2010,” Cabrera added.

The children who work in the streets are exposed to many risks. Their health, physical integrity, and even their emotional state are compromised.

“When a child works in the streets he’s not only exposed to all kinds of physical violence, but also to skin and respiratory diseases. Almost 100% of children who’ve worked in the streets show skin problems and difficulty breathing,” said Tintel.

Dangers in the city

Juan, 10, can vouch for the dangers of working in the streets of the city.

The boy, who joined the Abrazo Program three months ago, said he used to accompany his dad on the road, collecting plastic, paper and cardboard, which they would sell to recyclers. To gather the objects, he would pull a wagon and walk many kilometers a day.

“We used to walk a lot,” he recalls. “Sometimes, when it was very hot, I couldn’t take it because I’d burn my feet; my sandals weren’t enough protection from the hot asphalt.”

“When it was cold, I would become sick; I coughed a lot and my throat was very sore.”

Juan no longer goes out to work in the streets, and the hours he used to spend walking about to help his family are now spent in the Open Center Number 3.

“I really like coming here, we eat, play, and study every day,” says Juan, who has eight siblings and lives in the Ricardo Brugada area, known as “la Chacarita,” one of the poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods of Asuncion.

But not all children can take advantage of what the Open Center Number 3 has to offer.

Julio said, his eyes looking at the horizon, sitting on the wooden box that holds his work tools: a brush, shoe polish, and some rags.

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35 Comments

  • ISABEL | 2013-02-07

    DEAR COMPATRIOT IT MAKES ME VERY GLAD THAT CHILDREN ARE GIVEN PRIORITY BECAUSE IN REALITY THEY NEED EDUCATION TO GET AHEAD I AM ONE OF THE MANY COMPATRIOTS WHO LIVES IN THIS BLESSED COUNTRY, ARGENTINA, WHICH OFFERED ME SO MANY THINGS AND OPPORTUNITIES THAT I DID NOT HAVE IN MY COUNTRY AND IT IS TOO BAD WE HAVE TO LEAVE OUR BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY TO FIND OPPORTUNITIES FOR A BETTER AND CALM LIFE AND IT MAKES ME GLAD THAT THEY THINK OF THE CHILDREN WHO ARE THE FUTURE OF THE COUNTRY AND MAY GOD BLESS THOSE WHO GOVERN SO THAT EACH DAY MAY BE BETTER FOR EACH ONE TO FEEL PROUD TO BE PARAGUAYAN BIG KISSES TO EACH ONE OF MY COMPATRIOTS UNTIL FOREVER LEDESMA YSABEL

  • estela | 2011-05-21

    There are NO children on the streets in Encarnación, it is because we work WELL, but it is a constant struggle, they should copy the work system, it is an example for the country....

  • mauricio | 2011-05-20

    It is sad friend but I have to tell you what is in power is worthless I am not the only one who had to leave the country to have a future for as much as one may not want to, its necessary to leave. Think friend how many millions we are and how many millions are out of the country do you believe they left because they were doing well, no sirs, I am 34 years old I am a mechanic I practice 28 years I was in Paraguay they never gave me work where I could be out of debt and have insurance I am very proud to be Paraguayan. With love MAURICIO.

  • marcelo | 2011-05-18

    Hi to everyone I came to live in Paraguay I am Argentine, and it hurt me to have known so much poverty, my view in this respect is that if the Paraguayans don't stand up and shout a little asking for what belongs to them the governments no matter who they are will not stop stealing away their dignity because the only ones who look good here are the politicians and the whole Paraguayan system is corrupt it will never change if your way of thinking doesn't change God bless those poor souls who have to pay because of a very few.

  • teresa | 2011-05-17

    What misfortunes in our country too much poverty the president doesn't do anything!! Teresa from Argentina I hope they do something it is shameful!!

  • CINTHIA | 2011-05-17

    Thank you to all for this great news... with all this we realize that Paraguay really is changing at last our little Paraguayans who were abandoned by the government are going to be able to have something that Paraguay has not had in a long time...DIGNITY Thank you little Virgin Mary for shining your light on our poor homeless children...GOD BLESS ALL THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO GOVERN AND GIVE THE CHANCE TO LIVE WITH DIGNITY...

  • emiliano | 2011-05-17

    It is very good that they remember the poor ... in my view it is to know the position of each family, the reason they are like that, the children in the streets, homeless, the government should give them work, education, because helping out of grace, no one values anything, one has to sacrifice to achieve something, but with the help of the government ,,,,,,,obviously,,,,,,,,,,

  • maria concepcion | 2011-05-16

    I am Paraguayan through and through, I love my country... I want, from the bottom of my heart, for them to take care of the Indigenous peoples and the children in the street.

  • Maria | 2011-05-16

    Will Paraguay be back to normal tomorrow, May 17?

  • eulogio | 2011-05-15

    I think it is good that they are working and not stealing and killing at that age

  • Gladys Bogado | 2011-05-14

    I live in Argentina I love my country it hurts me profoundly to know about all this, I don't know how or when or who to hold accountable. I still hope to return very soon...

  • Eva 2011-05-14 | 2011-05-14

    I hope this isn't just a publication that you truly do something because it is very sad to see those children working like that on the streets. The children have the right to have a home, to study and to be heard they should respect that. I live in Argentina since 91 and every time I go to see all of that it hurts me so much whether it's in Asunción or in Villarrica where I always go.

  • maria florentin | 2011-05-12

    TO MY DEAR FELLOW PARAGUAYAN PEOPLE: I HAVE LIVED IN URUGUAY FOR 28 YEARS... IT IS A COUNTRY THAT STRUGGLES CONSTANTLY... SO THAT CHILDREN WON'T BE EXPLOITED BY THEIR PARENTS OR BY STRANGERS... IT IS TIME THAT OUR GOVERNMENTS CONTROL THE PARENTS (FORCING THEM TO PUT THEIR CHILDREN IN SCHOOL). I WAS ONE OF THEM, THANKS TO GOD I FOLLOWED THE CORRECT PATH AND I AM PROUD OF THIS COUNTRY I LIVE IN AND THAT GAVE ME EVERYTHING I COULD NOT IN MY BLESSED PARAGUAY... BECAUSE I STILL YEARN FOR MY BELOVED LAND... STRENGTH COMPATRIOTS BECAUSE IT CAN BE DONE: MAY OUR HEAVENLY FATHER GIVE YOU THE BLESSING TO FIGHT FOR OUR CHILDREN IN PARAGUAY AND THE WHOLE WORLD.

  • genaro Piñanez B | 2011-05-12

    To my beloved compatriots; LET US PRAY without stopping for our children and youth, only our Lord Jesus Christ creator of everything can change this whole system that there be "men" in fear of God is the only way to change history to a new awakening, another vision for our dear Paraguay this is my wish in the name of Jesus Christ amen. Hugs

  • sol | 2011-05-08

    The thing is, all politicians want to do is get rich, it's always the same story even when it is very sad that children are working on the street when they should be under the protection of their parents... and for those that are homeless, someone should do something for them...

  • Romi espinoza | 2011-05-03

    I live in Argentina I am Paraguayan, and it hurt my very SOUL when I LEFT my country and my family. Looking for opportunities. I HOPE to someday have the opportunity to live and work with dignity in my country!

  • gustavo | 2011-05-01

    Lugo disaster

  • vane | 2011-04-30

    I believe Paraguay does need to improve a lot in this country there is a lot of corruption, threats and among other things that is why we must improve particularly we need to avoid having those children and teenagers working on the streets and also put through domestic abuse I hope they improve the country

  • Quintìn Ferreira Ramìrez. | 2011-04-29

    I think the age-old problem of the Paraguayan's prior administrations is not "not having done, or having done poorly this or that one in particular in all of history. My understanding is that what all Paraguayans lack, including all the social, political, religious, military, civil sectors, etc. is what we in other parts call "EDUCATION". Paraguayans have stayed behind in time and distance in regard to their education, since the time of independence. Today you still hear them talking about the war of the triple alliance or the war of the Chaco, as if they were present day events. I don't say forget them, but I simply want, as a Paraguayan who lives in Argentina since 1965, today, in the era of technology and scientific progress, for us to open our eyes and see all together without regard to social strata, that we are behind in our civilization, at least !!!!! 100 years !!!! with regard to other countries in the region, without naming one in particular. That is why, it hurts my soul that still we Paraguayans are acknowledging our faults and no institution or government is WILLING to modify our terrible flux. Thank you for allowing me to speak at length even if it is through this small medium. A hug and infinite kisses to all my compatriots.

  • Raquel | 2011-04-29

    It is very sad to see children working that way instead of studying and educating themselves for a better future. I hope that when they want to rebuild they really do it, and if they're going to take them off the streets, they will have a place already to take them, because that is the root of the main problem, they take them off the street but that is not the solution. If their parents don't have work, there is no choice and they send their children out to the streets, too bad so many think that way.

  • elida momges | 2011-04-26

    It makes me very sad that the statesmen don't make education a priority, that is fundamental so that many children can stop working on the streets and like me have to leave their country since those who govern it never give them the help they need and never live up to their obligations towards their citizens. Elida

  • JUAN | 2011-04-26

    Hi my name is Juan Jose I am a Paraguayan working in Buenos Aires I wanted to tell the politicians that they should put to good use what they steal since it comes from stolen opportunities from many youth, opportunities to study, to work, to smile in their country the people we the Paraguayans are a country that suffers very much I HOPE SOMEDAY WE HAVE A COUNTRY OF OPPORTUNITIES TO SHOW THAT PARAGUAY KNOWN FOR ITS CORRUPTION TYRANY AND DEATH THERE IS STILL SLAVERY IN PARAGUAY KILLINGS AND INEQUALITY I BEG YOUR PARDON FOR MY WORDS BUT IT IS THE TRUTH

  • cristina | 2011-04-25

    At the bottom of my heart no matter how much I look for answers, solutions and stir around looking for some hope, that good times will come but reality is different, all we can do is hope, maybe if the politicians and with the help of all of us we can make the country grow it depends on those children how will they grow if they do not go to school???????????\'

  • Miguel Amarilla | 2011-04-21

    All the comments are always very good and they enrich us and the politicians, I would just like to comment to you that there is still much to be done, since before not only did they stop doing anything but what they did was poorly done, rebuilding is harder than building. In fact I believe that politicians should make a lot of money and forget about stealing, that money earned should force them to do their job well. The children on the streets and the issue of the extreme poverty of many people is not a problem exclusive to the politicians, it is also a problem for the apathetic population that doesn't participate with the excuse that they don't believe, they don't trust, nothing can be done and all those stories that our parents told us and that left us with the country the way it is. It is time for us to forget the colors, the races, and all those matters that make us different and let us all together push this country into a better future for all. Hugs

  • sergio | 2011-04-21

    In Davalos Hermanos we work 12 hours and we don't have IPS we work with very dangerous sheet metal

  • alex andrade | 2011-04-21

    Even though we are poor, the people are the strength of the country so you who govern can't forget about us

  • antonio | 2011-04-20

    How long can we put up with these corrupt and ignorant, lazy politicians who only think about taking advantage of the influence they have and filling their pockets. It is the people's fault who gave him their vote, they too take advantage of a disoriented government that can't find the right way to govern.

  • david | 2011-04-17

    All depends from what angle to discuss on it. No doubt poverty it is an issue by itself, however along the so-called \"third world\" it has become a political currency to win votes and so reach the ticket to the governament. Lets put it the other way round: if poverty would not exist they would have to created, and that\'s what they ultimately do. The scheme works this way: create poverty as much as possible (are going to be future votes) and then build a fancy speech offering \"solutions\". Bingo! here the equation. That\'s the reason why southamerican countries are trapped into the same circle for decades.

  • luis felix rodriguez pinto | 2011-04-17

    I admire those hard working children for their efforts it would be good if the government would give them a salary and give them an education so that they can someday become someone in life.

  • alfredo | 2011-04-13

    Every Paraguayan politician should attend to this problem now first by donating their juicy salaries at least half of each one of them these corrupt and ignorant politicians sure make me sick in a country like Paraguay we can't go on living like we live enslaved and completely abandoned by the repugnant politicians we have in Paraguay it is shameful thank you

  • Antia Noelia Villalba Olmedo | 2011-04-12

    I am very glad that things are working well in Paraguay, we have to keep on moving forward with all the assistance projects and that our economy is on the rise is too important, that shows me that having opted for a change in government wasn't such a bad idea.. Long live the President, keep up your fight because the people perfectly understand where the true problems and the ill intentions of the opposition are.. Strength!!

  • marino | 2011-04-08

    Good morning dear compatriots I want to share my opinion in a few words, as a Paraguayan I think it is very good that kids begin to learn about sacrifice and are willing to work I agree. But as for the adolescents who don't have the opportunity to get appropriate work for their young age the government should do something about this and I mean all the political parties we have to learn to be more patriotic and be aware of how we can help improve daily, for our own good and for the good of all the Paraguayan people we know it is not easy, but let us not forget that our country has enough resources to get ahead. I leave you my cordial regards for all respectfully

  • Antia Noelia Villalba Olmedo | 2011-04-06

    I think it is excellent that there are institutions that perform well in their role of protecting the vulnerable, the main problem, I believe, is not with the politicians, it is in the ignorance of the citizenry who don't inform themselves well about who is on the list of candidates to run the country, and they are guided solely by the color, or by the 20 thousand they are paid for their vote, our main problem is the lack of good education, because even those who are in the schools don't take it in well, because not even the teachers are well educated. Because it is a system we have been dragging along for a long time, and we don't have the slightest idea of how to fix it, because we are manipulated by systems such as the U.S. and other countries who find it convenient that we stay ignorant to keep on managing us, because in the university departments, for example, they don't even teach research methods, how do they think we're going to get ahead like this.

  • Sonia Lugo | 2011-04-04

    The truth is it would be so beautiful if the politicians would stop filling their pockets and would dedicate themselves a bit more to their Country, to improve the quality of life of their inhabitants, give employment, education, health there are so many things that can be done and aren't being done...

  • anahi | 2011-04-02

    I am very happy finally someone has remembered the POOR because many Leaders BELieve that the poor are just dish rags. and they are very wrong. SO KEEP IT UP