A community’s fight against child labour
The town of Coronel Oviedo is on the highway that connects Paraguay neighbouring Brazil, about 137 km from the capital city of Asunción. Although there are still some red dirt roads criss-crossing the town the new highway brings heavy traffic to the area and has turned the once sleepy town into a commercial hub. The population is booming as Paraguayans from rural areas come here in search of work.
But making a living here is no easy feat. Up to 15 per cent of the population of Paraguay lives with less than $1 a day and, according to government surveys, one in four children aged 10-17 have to work to help make ends meet. In Coronel Oviedo, children can been seen selling fruit, snacks and knick-knacks along the highway or washing car windows on the downtown streets.
From the street to the classroom
The project Vida y Comunidad (Life and Community) is working to change this situation in Coronel Oviedo. Managed by the town’s municipality, it involves various local bodies and receives technical advice and financial support from UNICEF. The project offers ‘open centres’ where child workers spend time when they are not at school and receive help with their homework, one or two meals, basic health care and the opportunity to participate in recreational activities. Social workers help the children’s families ensure that they stay in school.
The project also features community centres, that offer assistance to children living in poor neighbourhoods to prevent them from joining the labour force. Income-generation initiatives for families and a training and employment centre help parents provide for their families.
At one of the open centres 12-year-old Juan is completely focused on playing to the rhythm of carnival music on a home-made drum and following the zigzag movements of the teacher’s improvised baton.
Before he joined the Vida y Comunidad project, Juan used to wake up early to sell sweets at the bus terminal and was often too tired to attend school. Now he is able to attend sixth grade on a regular basis at Marangatú School, and to participate in the activities of the open centre, which include music lessons.
Digna, a bright-eyed, seven-year-old girl who used to sell oranges until nightfall every day is also part of the project and says it feels good to spend part of the day at the Centre and to attend school in the afternoons.
Since the beginning of the project in 2002, 63 per cent of the children assisted have been able to decrease the number of hours that they spend working and 41 children have been able to stop working completely.