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Curtailing child labour in Peru

Well over a quarter of children in Peru aged between six and 17 years perform some kind of work but the Peruvian government has declared it is time to end such child labour.

President Ollanta Humala has said his goal is to “have no more children working by the end of my term”. To that end, Mr Humala hopes to introduce a nationwide ban on the employment of children under 14 years as a national priority, as well as initiating programmes to boost school attendance.

Within Peru, the president’s plans are somewhat surprisingly not universally welcomed. Though the general public frowns upon children living on the streets, children who live at home but work to sell goods and services after school or at weekends are considered to be a normal part of city life. And in rural areas, families expect their children to help in agriculture.

With high rates of poverty, children are encouraged to help with household expenses by working and this is frequently seen as normal and part of the growing up process. A recent report on child workers by the Foundation for International Research on Working Children (IREWOC) – ‘Street-Working and Street-Living Children in Peru’ (2010) - found that parents regularly expressed the view that work helps children to learn independence and how to be responsible. One national Peruvian organisation which represents child workers – Manthoc – echoed this view, with one facilitator telling the BBC “children always worked during the Inca times”.

However, as the IREWOC report makes clear, children are often working in extremely unsafe street environments. Many sell goods late into the night and face dangers such as traffic accidents, criminal gangs and violent passers-by. In addition, children frequently work long and exhausting hours which has a direct impact on their school performance and homework. Street selling can also reduce their motivation to do well at school, because once a child earns money, this motivates them to spend longer hours working.

Speaking to the BBC, a spokesperson for the International Labour Organisation praised Mr Humala’s plans for encouraging a move away from the national culture of allowing children to work on the streets. The director of the ILO for the Andean region commented “no matter how many hours children work, it stops them from attending school regularly” and he praised the Peruvian government for recognising that the only way children could create a brighter future for themselves came “with education”.

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