EL ALTO, Bolivia (ILO Online) – Leidi is 13 but looks like an adult. That’s when she ponders becoming one of the “voceadores”, working in a minibus, shouting out the names of stops for passengers who can’t read and jumping off the vehicle to usher in passengers.
The “voceadores” are just one of the jobs tempting children and youth in this impoverished city on the outskirts of the capital La Paz. Others work as street vendors, shoe-shiners or even construction workers – up to 10 hours a day, following in the footsteps of their parents who were often child labourers as well.
El Alto is a relatively new city which has grown considerably in the past 20 years. Almost 40 per cent of its population is of school age, yet many never attend classes.
Children like Leidi first start working during the weekends or on national holidays. When they realize that by working they can help improve their families’ finances, they simply quit school. Once they’ve reached this point, it is very hard to return to school.
For more than 30 years, the Bolivian Centre for Research and Educational Action (CEBIAE) has been promoting education in the country’s poorest regions. Some years ago, the CEBIAE teamed up with the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) to promote the fight against child labour in school curricula using the SCREAM methodology.
SCREAM is an ILO programme designed to support children’s rights through education, the arts and the media. The education process in the SCREAM programme is based on the enlightenment of young people and on providing them with the tools, skills, and confidence to take action and to publicly inform the members of their communities about what they have learned.
Around 220 students and 37 teachers from 18 schools in El Alto underwent a process of information and exposure to child labour as a way of keeping children in school and helping teachers broaden their knowledge on the subject.
“Child labour is not a common topic in some schools”, says Marisable Paz, head of CEBIAE. “Some school directors think that by improving the infrastructure of the building they improve the quality of the education, but they fail to recognize and identify such a complex problem as child labour”.
“But not all educators think alike”, adds Ms Paz. Thanks to the teachers and school involved, and the methodology used, many children who had never seen child labour as a problem have now realized that remaining in school is the best way to achieve a promising future.
“It wasn’t easy to attend the workshops, I had to stop working on Saturdays and my family and I went through some difficulties”, says Leidi, with the same serious face that minutes before was thinking about the minibus. “But I’m glad I did. I now know that I shouldn’t quit school because that is best way of having a better job and a better life in the future.”
In the past few years, the international community has made substantial progress in connecting the fight against child labour with education. Since 2002, an inter-agency group combining the ILO, UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank and the Global March Against Child Labour has met annually, leading to the establishment of a Global Task Force on Child Labour and Education at the meeting of the High-Level Group on EFA in Beijing in November 2005.
“The skills acquired at school may lead directly to the sort of gainful employment that will help children rise above the poverty into which they were born. Furthermore, when children who have had the benefits of an education – particularly girls – grow up, they are more likely to make the choice of education for their own children, thus helping to reduce the future ranks of child labourers”, says Patrick Quinn, Senior Technical Specialist of the ILO IPEC programme.
The ILO is marking this year World Day against Child Labour with a series of activities around the world aimed at raising awareness that education is the right response to child labour.
“The Millenium Development Goals seek to ensure, among other things, that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling by 2015. Progress has been made in improving access to primary education, but there are also disparities in progress, and the poorest, often those in rural areas, are being left behind”, concludes Patrick Quinn.