Date: Tue, 20 Jul 1999 16:43:20 -0500 (CDT)
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Communities Help Kids Go Back to School
By Néfer Muñoz, IPS, 19 July 1999
SAN JOSE, Jul 19 (IPS) - Community councils take up the fight against the exploitation of children in Costa Rica and encourage thousands of girls and boys to go back to the schools they abandoned for work.
Costa Rica's Residents Defence Office and the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) signed an agreement Saturday to create a system of neighbourhood and regionally based Childhood and Adolescence Protection Councils to fight the exploitation of children.
In Costa Rica, an estimated 121,000 children and adolescents between the ages of five and 17 are involved in work activities, and are an indication of the growing number of children dropping out of school.
"What we are trying to do is reincorporate these girls and boys back into the educational system," said Sandra Piszk, of the Residents Defence Office.
This plan - to be implimented in 25 Costa Rican communities - would allow officials to enforce the laws prohibiting children younger than 15 from joining the labour market.
The most recent data on child labour come from a 1995 survey of Costa Rican homes, which revealed that six percent of the child population worked and 13 percent did not work or attend school.
Ahmed Tabash, a Residents Defence Office official, told IPS that his organisation will provide the human resources for the project while financing will come from IPEC, part of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The initiative occurs at a time when Costa Rican society is questioning the quality of its public education system, which for years was considered one of the highest achievements of this nation's democracy.
The public's concern became a flood of criticism following the release of this year's Human Development Report, which shows that primary, secondary and higher education school registration levels fell dramatically in 1996 and 1997.
The report, issued by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), also reveals that nearly half of 15-year-old adolescents drop out of school. Costa Rica's own Ministry of Education reports that in 1998, 10.5 percent of high school students abandoned their studies.
The Residents Defence Office reported that there are 53,000 children between ages five and 17 who work more hours per week than legally permitted.
Of the 121,000 children who work, more than 30 percent do not receive payment and more than half receive payment in kind.
Piszk's concern is also based on her studies which show there are 59,000 children in Costa Rica who work and do not go to school at all.
The community-based project is an attempt to enforce compliance with the Childhood and Adolescence Code, Piszk said.
She added that they will attempt to educate the population to prohibit the use of children for high-risk work, and also to stop a problem that has grown in Costa Rica over recent years: the commercial sexual exploitation of girls and boys.
A report released by the Residents Defence Office criticised the Costa Rican educational system for having become a bureaucracy that is incapable of providing the necessary tools to face the challenges of the new millenium. (END/IPS/tra-so/nms/dm/ld/99)
Origin: Montevideo/EDUCATION-COSTA RICA/
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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