child labor.

Child labor.  It’s a hot button issue.  But it’s an issue that isn’t always fully understood.  Though, thankfully, there are programs out there that do understand the complexity of child labor.

In developed nations, we grow up with the notion that every child has a basic right to education.  Every child also has the basic right to have a childhood.  This period of innocence and learning has been culturally constructed.  And it’s an important period in our lives.  So, we mourn the fact that every child doesn’t get to experience this same period of time.

But every family also has the right to live.  To live, you need money.  To get money, you need to work.  Every person has the right to work in order to make a living and survive.  It’s a very basic right that needs to be fulfilled.

Sometimes, these two rights are at odds.  In order for a family to have enough money to survive, the children have to help out.  This often means sacrificing school in order to work around the house or in the fields.  In developing countries, the right to work trumps the right to education.  Whereas, in the U.S. the general consensus is that the right to education should trump the right to work.  People and families go into large amounts of debt in the U.S. in pursuit of an education.

But not everyone understands the importance of respecting that trade off.  That is evident of this recent article in Co.Exist.

The article talks about a new App in Columbia that allows people to send an SMS text and anonymously tip authorities when they see children that are working instead of being in school.

The Kid Rescue app from Telefónica Telecom in Colombia is now encouraging people to tackle crime by taking geotagged photographs when they spot young people illegally working. (source)

It says that the application is sent to a social worker who decides what to do about the case. Over 1,000 children have been identified and 60 have been placed in schools.  There is very little information about how that happens.  So, for all I know, there might be an economics piece involved.  But based on the information that Telefonica gives (which is very little) we’ll assume they don’t.

Based on that, I am confused as to how this helps the issue of child labor.  So, the children are identified.  Then what?  Children don’t work for fun.  There’s a reason why they are working.  Can an app really change the reason why the children were working in the first place?  Probably not.  My guess is the children will go back to working.  If they are forced to stay in school, the family will suffer.

It’s clear that programs that simply force children to be in school don’t work.  They don’t really address the issue.  Because at the end of the day it’s an economics issue.  So, what does?  Programs that provide financial incentives to send their children to school.

The Bolsa Familia in Brazil is an example of a successful program.  The program gives low-income families a family allowance.  Families get paid to have their kids in school.  It compensates them for the money they lose by not having their children work.  If the children miss more than 15% of their classes, the allowance is suspended.  Once they return to school, it gets reinstated.  The Economist provides a more balanced look at the program in this article.

Peru is currently launching a similar program.

Peru’s labor ministry announced a $13 million project to improve access to education in rural areas of the country. The $13 million grant given by the United States will also help parents by augmenting their incomes and crop yields so that they become less dependent on their children for labor. (source)

But it’s not necessarily going to be easy.  The right to work vs. the right to education is still an issue.  Every culture does not value the right to education over the right to work.

Some children and young adults oppose this Project, arguing that it will take away their right to work. Peruvian children have worked in the fields since Inca times, and Manthoc, a Peruvian organization representing child workers, believe this tradition should continue as part of the normal development of the Peruvians.

The Peruvian government hopes to persuade rural families not to send their kids to work. Government officials know that it will not be easy unless they can improve income and employment opportunities for the millions of Peruvian who live in poverty.

You can’t just address education.  In order to curb drop out rates, a holistic approach is needed.  You cannot separate economics from child labor and education.  And you can’t forget the cultural implications.  But programs such as the Bolsa Familia and the new program in Peru are a step in the right direction.

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