By Paula Diaz
Close your eyes and go back to a time before you were a teenager, where life was everything you wanted it to be and so much more. Now place yourself in a different kind of situation where you’re still that same age but instead working from sunrise to sundown in order to help your family out financially. Job and financial security at an age younger than 13 sounds a little odd, doesn’t it?
Not in Bolivia, South America where the current president, Evo Morales recently passed a law legalizing the child labor age to that of ten. According to an article written for the National Public Radio, the law “guarantees legal protections and fair wages for children who have been working regardless of laws against it.” While the law seems to make sense in a country where so many children already do different types of work from young ages there are various factors in it that make several people very much against it.
With 49.6% of the country’s population living below the poverty line one of the biggest concerns has been the lack of education that children under this new law would be receiving. While the law states that they are only allowed to work less than six hours a day, “as long as they are given time to attend school,” many of these children who have already been working the majority of their lives will only continue to do so. Education to them will become the least of their priorities and work, because it brings more immediate rewards, will become of the upmost importance.
Samaritan’s Purse International, a nondenominational evan- gelical Christian organization, has been working in Bolivia since 2007 to better the lives of people in need. One of the many areas where their attention has been focused on has been in that of children and in ways to help them focus on their education.
“In these past couple of years we’ve developed a model of local economic development which seeks to benefit schools in places like the town of Caquiaviri,” expressed Ivan Burke, the director of administration at the Samaritan’s Purse Bolivia field office, “We implemented school breakfasts to 67 of the schools in the field and created a model based on local products to give them a real lunch (meat, milk, cheese, egg, and quinoa), unlike the crackers, bread pudding, and coffee given to them by the government. The purpose of this was not only to improve their nutrition but also to motivate them to go to school and stop the migration of children traveling to the city to make money.”
Through the workshops in the communities they are aiding, the organization has been working towards teaching the importance of education. Because of their breakfasts in schools program the organization has already seen a difference in school attendance with the migration of children to the city decreasing and the attendance of children in school increasing.
While supporters of the law say that this is a great way for children to essentially have the same rights as a legal worker the majority of opponents agree that the law will only continue the cycle of poverty in Bolivia. Without a proper education the chil- dren will only focus on work and continue to do so for the rest of their lives, leaving their children to do the same.
“Like every law there are advantages and disadvantages,” Burke expressed, “one advantage is that Bolivians will continue to have an amazing ability to do things with their hands because of the skills the children gain from such young ages but the big- gest drawback will be that the generations involved will be lost because of their lack of education. The money they earn does not create principles and values and at the end of the day these generations are and will continue to be absorbed by street life and abuse from those who hire them.”