What are Working Children?
Working children are those under the age of 18 who work full or part-time. The working children in Ecuador, and specifically in Quito, generally work as ambulatory vendors (selling vegetables, fruits, or candy), shoe shines, entertainers on buses and in markets, and laborers. Often, children start out working by their mother's side in markets, but normally by the age of 4 or 5 they become more ambulatory and work increasingly alone or in groups of children.
Why Are There Working Children?
The epidemic of children working has been present throughout time, but certain economic and social factors have made this problem more prevalent in Ecuador since the 1980s. Whereas most "developed" countries have instituted and reinforced social reforms prohibiting child labor, many developing countries do not have the means to make the necessary legal changes or resources to enforce these changes in order to curb the problem of child labor. Provoked by the debt crisis of the 1980s and urban migration, working children have become an increasingly common sight on the streets of most Latin American cities. Many are the children of poor parents from the countryside who have migrated to the cities to look for work and dreaming of opportunity.
What Problems Do Working Children Face?
Working children face a myriad of problems. First, because they spend most of their lives working on the street, they are much more vulnerable than non-working children to sexual and physical assaults by strangers, gang pressure, the temptations to steal, prostitution, health problems from working on the street (such as poor-hygiene induced problems such as scabies and lice, malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, problems with parasites and diarrea, sleep deprivation and environment stresses), and drug addiction. The children, who generally live with their family and work on the street and in the markets, suffer from many problems. In the majority of families CENIT works with, the problem of mistreatment and abuse is rampant. Many children are physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abused by their family members, members of their extended family, or neighbors. The high incidence of alcoholism among recent male migrants magnifies this problem. Often, the families set specific quotas for the children which determine how much they have to sell each day. If the child does not meet this quota, he or she could be subject to severe, often physical, punishment. In some cases, working children resort to petty theft in order to come home with enough money so that they are not beaten. Most working children do not get a basic education. The poverty of most families with working children is so extreme that the parents worry more about day-to-day survival than making a future investment in their children by providing them with education. Besides the missed income, another reason the parents are unable or unwilling to send their children to school is that school is not free. Parents in Ecuador have to pay a fee to educate their children, even in public schools, and often have to pay between $100 and $400 for mandatory enrollment fees and school supplies, such as uniforms. For a poor family that counts pennies in order to survive, sacrificing half, or sometimes more, of their annual income for education is not a possibility.
Do Working Children All Live on the Streets?
Contrary to popular belief, most working children live at home with their families or extended families. There are children who do live and work on the street, but the majority of working children in Ecuador do, in fact, live with their families. Most of the families live in dire conditions, sometimes without running water or sanitary services such as bathrooms.
What Do Working Children Do?
Working children do any low-skilled job that they can in order to help their families survive. For example, many children work as ambulatory vendors or in low skilled jobs such as peeling potatoes, shining shoes, and selling candy. For this reason, many of them have not had the mental stimulation to be at the level of intellectual development that their non-working peers easily obtain. Also, many of them do such mundane, repetitive jobs (such as peeling potatoes), that they also have not developed proper motor skills.