[LIMA, 6 October 2008] - Child labour may be condemned as a gross abuse of human rights, but in Peru children are demanding their right to lawful employment as an alternative to labour exploitation, arguing if poverty persists, so will child labour.
The Manthoc Child and Adolescent Workers’ Association uses its scarce resources to promote the rights of children and a better quality of life for labourers under the legal working age.
They come together on their own initiative - with adults performing only minor roles - to demand recognition of child labour as a legal activity, in which children’s development is promoted and youths are protected from harm.
The members of Manthoc, aged six to 18, elect their leaders and make their own proposals, receiving assistance from adults on administrative and other matters, Manthoc’s national delegate, Fabiola Segura, said.
Speaking with a coherence and eloquence that belies her young age, Segura, who since the age of nine has been working as a baker, artisan and street vendor, said the rationale of child labour is apparent: children will have to work so long there is poverty.
“Without alternative policies and dignified work, child workers will be exploited, and as long as wealth is not well distributed, poverty will continue to exist. Young people work illegally out of necessity and it’s there where (authorities) need to intervene,” Segura said.
At her office in the poor Lima neighbourhood of Ciudad de Dios, which also serves as a school-workshop for child labourers, Segura said the group’s goal is to overturn legislation that - well-intentioned though - ignores a social and cultural reality in which children are part of the country’s productive work force.
At present, Peruvian legislation permits the employment of children at the age of 14, or 12 in some cases, although different non-government organisations estimate that the almost 2.5 million child labourers in Peru begin working at even younger ages.
Manthoc said the solution lies in establishing and enforcing dignified working conditions and ensuring that children are valued, protected and respected for the labour that they perform.
Although having to earn a livelihood means for children less time for rest, play and study and taking adult responsibilities, they say they are proud to be able to help their families and earn their own money.
Samuel Calderon, another Manthoc national delegate, said the difference between their organisation and others that fight against child labour is that the latter only see the exploitation and the abuse and do not consider the positive aspects.
“I’ve worked at the warehouse at my home when I was six, selling merchandise, and it’s a way to learn, each person getting something out of their work and developing skills,” Calderon said.
According to Manthoc, for work to be “dignified” it must be voluntary, suitable to the child’s age and allow the minor to attend school until he or she has completed basic educational requirements.
The Manthoc youths also offer assistance and training to other children who are victims of exploitation.
At their small workshops, the organisation’s 3,500 children work in dignified conditions and receive food, help with schoolwork, psychological assistance and professional training while they make sweets, wooden toys or gift cards that they later sell.
All of Manthoc’s activities and policies have the same overarching goal: empowering children and giving them control over their future.
Segura said it was regrettable that “politicians make laws that in principle are to help children but in the end don’t benefit them at all, and that’s why we want to express our opinion.”
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Last updated 07/10/2008 05:18:34