Sao Paulo (Fides Service) - The average working week for children between the ages of 5 and 9 years 12 hours per week, but children between 10 and 13 work 22 hours a week. Adolescents workers aged 16 to 17 do as many as 37 hours a week.
A 1992 survey by Brazil’s Institute of Geography and Statistics IBGE, revealed that 9.7 million children aged between 5 and 17 years were working. In 1998 7.7 million of Brazil’s 43 million children were working. In 2001, 5.4 million children aged 10 to 17 were working. Pedro Americo de Oliveira, of the International Labour Organisation said that in the last ten years Brazil reduced by 35% the number of children and adolescents exploited in the world of work..
Brazilian experts on child labour say that children in poor urban districts and rural areas work mainly in cutting sugar cane, picking coffee and oranges, selling sweets, watching cars, shine shoes etc. Whereas in the countries large sprawling cities thousands of children are thrown onto the streets at the mercy of gang masters of prostitution or drug trafficking.
In cities children work in small businesses or in marginal often irregular sectors of trade, markets stalls or street stalls. Street work often renders children targets of repression conducted in the name of public order and public property defence. In addition to problems of daily these is the danger of being arrested or shot dead. To alleviate the pangs of hunger, cold children often use synthetic drugs extremely dangerous for their health. Also child workers in rural areas a victims of adult violence: aggression, torture, land disputes, dangerous work.
“Most street children come from poor districts, broken families, extremely poor families unable to provide for their children whom they maltreat and force to go out to work. Stealing and prostitution are the easiest ways of earning money. Begging is dangerous because of the danger of being shot by the constant threat of “death squads” Tess Alves, a member of National Movement for Street Children from the state of Ceara, said in an interview with a local periodical.
Today the government of Brazil is particularly concerned about “domestic child labour” because it is “invisible”. According to a 2001 IBGE report 494,002 aged between 5 and 17 were engaged in domestic work in other people’s homes. The girls usually live-in under conditions of semi-slavery often underfed, maltreated and made to work as many as 48 hours a week with no day off and very law pay. Some are not even paid because room and board is considered enough. Sexual performance is nearly always considered part of domestic duties.
According to a survey in November 2003 by the NGO “Progetto Meninos e Meninas de Rua”, money earned by street children in cities such as Guarulhos or Greater Sao Paulo, correspond to 62 % of family income. For Ariel de Castro Alves, NGO vice president this shows that families depend on the work of children.
It is therefore evident that poverty is one of the main causes of child labour. Another major cause is the demand of non-professional low cost labour. Besides costing less, children are easier to discipline and they have no trade union organisations. Another cause is the Brazil’s social and economic tradition. According to anthropologist Carmen Siqueira Ribeiro dos Santos Nogueira, the persistence of child labour in Brazil is certainly due to persisting poverty among families. But this is not the only cause. She says that child labour is associated with other family difficulties: larger number of persons to support, more reasons for dependence (persons under 15 and over 65), extremely precarious living conditions, heads of families with low level of instruction.
Approval of the Statute of Children and Adolescents, and more involvement of civil society and adoption of policies such as Programme to Eliminate Child Labour PETI have helped to reduce the number of child workers in the last decade. Despite that fact in 2003 thanks to PETI 813,000 children under 16 were saved from dangerous work (factories, sugar plantations...) there is still a long way to go. At the end of 2003, to continue the struggle to eliminate the worst forms of exploitation of child workers the Brazilian government started a new programme which will last for 39 months. The government programme, co-funded by ILO , will involve public and private institutions and it will be oriented towards legislation, institutional reinforcement, direction intervention and information. It will also help the work of the National Commission for the Elimination of Child Labour in five states: Maranhao, Paraiba, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande del Sud.
Father Daniele Lagni, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Brazil told Fides that street children are a very painful reality for Brazilian society. Increasingly aware that the family is the place where children grow in harmony and happiness many institutions are working to meet this challenge providing suitable pastoral care, centres of assistance and professional training. (R.Z.) (Agenzia Fides 13/3/2004; righe 68 - parole 966)