Violence against poor and indigent children and adolescents is an entrenched problem across Latin America and the Caribbean. Many youth begin working even before age 10 to help feed their families. Children in places like Montevideo, Uruguay work during the night with their families sorting through the city’s trash to find recyclable goods they then sort to sell or keep as a means of survival. In places like Managua, Nicaragua, children operate in the street selling things at stoplights or bus stops for long periods in the direct sun, with little food and water.
Because children work as many as 10-12 hours a day, their school attendance is irregular at best. Their families—often themselves uneducated—may not understand the value of their schooling and rarely encourage it. Some children work in part to escape drug use and violence in their homes, only to be exposed to the same in the streets. Some youth are manipulated to become involved in drug trafficking, and some become addicted to drugs themselves—all leading to intense alienation, extremely low self-esteem, and the partial or total rupture of their relationships with family, school and communities. Numerous working children end up living in the streets as well as working there.
CWS and its program partners agree that child labor is a form of violence against youth as well as a grave violation of their basic rights. In addition, children who work in the streets are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, including rape and commercial sexual exploitation. The latter sometimes involves foreign tourists, as in areas like Boca Chica, a resort beach town just east of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
Often, violence pervades the places that should provide security for these youth: home, school and other points in the community. These young people also lack services to help keep them safe, including sports and cultural activities that channel difficult emotions and facilitate social inclusion. Violence against children is largely ignored by the public and government officials, which makes its eradication all the more difficult.
In sum, there is an urgent need to strengthen existing local efforts to prevent violence in the form of child labor and sexual abuse, including commercial sexual exploitation, while assisting sexual abuse survivors. To be effective, these efforts must adequately address the complexity of these problems and their solutions, and they must involve families, civil society, local communities and government officials. They require a long-term view that allows for processes of training, learning and organizational strengthening, while prioritizing financial and programmatic sustainability.