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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Sun Aug 6 15:21:08 2000
Date: Fri, 4 Aug 2000 22:43:25 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: RIGHTS-CENTRAL AMERICA: 7.5 Million Children at Work
Article: 101897
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Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

7.5 Million Children at Work

By Néfer Muñoz, IPS, 3 August 2000

SAN JOSE, Aug 3 (IPS) - More than 7.5 million Central American children and adolescents have lost their right to recreation and studies because they must go to work in order to help support their families, report several civil society groups.

Children performing dangerous industrial jobs, young people hired to commit crimes and babies sold into adoption in industrialised countries are all part of the panorama that keeps the region's children's rights activists on their toes.

Advocates from the non-governmental Foundation for Peace and Democracy (Funpadem) told IPS that a high percentage of working children in Central America perform their jobs under high risk conditions that are harmful to their health.

"We must take action now because this is a very serious problem," said Virginia Murillo, Funpadem adviser and president of the Costa Rican office of Defence of Children International (DCI).

The economic sectors employing the most children are mining, manufacturing, construction, agriculture, retail and domestic services, Murillo said.

The rights leader stressed that more people are now aware of the child labour problem as a result of the dissemination of new studies, but added that the phenomenon will continue to expand as long as the current conditions of poverty and family violence persist.

Development experts attribute high rates of school abandonment in the region to low human development indicators, which reflect high unemployment, the high cost of living, and low national budgets for education.

This reality has pushed Funpadem and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic to launch a joint project to raise awareness about child labour in the region.

The plan includes an information campaign about the implications and risks of work for children and adolescents, targeting groups that are directly involved with minors.

"We know that eradicating child labour (in developing countries) is impossible, but we also know that we can have an impact in reducing it," Marta Mercedes Peraza, a Salvadoran social worker from the 'Gente Joven' (Young People) organisation, told IPS.

In El Salvador, 40 percent of children under age 17 are involved in the national workforce to some extent.

"It is now common in El Salvador to see children committing crimes because they have been hired by adults, and even police," Peraza explained.

Children participate in kidnappings, robberies and extortion because the hunger their families are suffering forces them to do so, she added.

A study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) says economic crisis has hit the Salvadoran population especially hard, as a full one-third of its 5.8 million people live in extreme poverty, and most are children and women heads of household.

"The authorities in Central America must understand that the healthy development of children is very important for our countries and that we have to take measures to ensure their education," Arnaldo Tacam, project co-ordinator for the NGO Maternal-Infant Programme of Guatemala, told IPS.

An estimated 1.5 million of Guatemala's 12 million inhabitants are working minors.

Some of the major educational problems in Guatemala are that rural areas often do not have schools or teachers, and if they do, the range of indigenous cultures of the local population are not taken into account, said Tacam.

The country received a blow in late July when the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) denounced the existence in Guatemala of a child-trafficking organisation that is thought to have earned 25 million dollars in 1999 for giving 1,650 children to families overseas in paid adoptions.

Thus, an average of four children per day were "exported," says the UNICEF report.

High international demand for children and the poverty of Guatemalan families puts the process of adoption at the mercy of the law of supply and demand, according the UN agency. (END/IPS/tra-so/nms/mj/ld/00)


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