Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in central America. Most people exist on subsistence farming. Over 80 per cent of the population live on less than two dollars a day.
Here, outside Guatemala city, the land is poor, and making fireworks is the main source of income.
It’s hard work, difficult because most producers work at home, either in small shacks or literally just outside their back door.
Children start working at the age of six. Exposed to explosive chemicals like potassium nitrate and gunpowder, there are no controls to regulate health and safety.
Seven-year-old Christina and nine-year-old Renee work at the makeshift factory behind their house. With their brothers and sisters, they make firecrackers for sale. When the demand for fireworks is high, especially over Christmas, the children rarely have time to go to school. It’s repetitive work, and sometimes crippling.
It hurts my back when I work for two hours and I work hard like this.
Martha is six years old. She was burned when a spark set fire to a pile of fireworks outside her back door, where she was playing with her brother.
Fireworks production is one of the worst forms of child labour. Around 84 million children worldwide are employed in dangerous work, according to the International Labour Organisation. But it’s difficult to change the habits of a lifetime.
Miriam de Celada, ILO Guatemala National Co-ordinator for campaign against child labour
Laws, we have lots. But the problem is how to implement them – to make people obey the law, to understand that it’s an activity that they shouldn’t be doing at home… Just to get the local mayor to say that children should not work – only happened after four years of hard work.
The ILO is encouraging families to find alternative sources of income, such as basket-making. The idea is that, through these activities, parents could make enough money for their children’s education.
Fireworks, however, remain a lucrative source of income.
And they’re part pleasure and pain of life in Guatemala.