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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 June, 2004, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
Scraping a living on Peru streets
By Hannah Hennessy
BBC correspondent in Lima

Peruvian child in slum
It's all work and no school for many of Peru's street children

Diego is 14. He is short for his age and extremely slight, but his face betrays a lost childhood.

For the past eight years, he has worked in the filthy streets of Las Lomas de Carabayllo, a shanty town in the desert on the outskirts of Lima.

He works on a rubbish truck, collecting and sorting through litter from outside houses in the district.

He earns 10 soles (just over $3) for 10 hours of work.

Diego and his four siblings all work.

They have had to since their father died, leaving their mother with five young children to clothe and feed.

"I like my job, because it's the only one I have. I need to help my family, help them buy food and things," he said, explaining that he finds his food from rummaging through the rubbish bags left by other households.

Many [children] are falling behind, because education just isn't seen as important
Freddy Calixto
Proceso Social
Sometimes a juice that has passed its expiry date; if he is very lucky, a yoghurt.

"The most dangerous thing is being injured by the rubbish trucks or by other vehicles," he says, ignoring the scars on his hands from sifting through rubbish that often contains metal or glass.

He hacks as he talks, his chest infected by the germs he works amongst every day.

Pressing need

The rubbish trucks that Diego works on belong to the local government.

A charity that is trying to end underage labour in Peru says the children are often hired to work on them illegally, because they are cheap.

Peruvian girl washing clothes
Millions of children work across Latin America and the Caribbean
Diego works one day on and one day off, which means he can still go to school.

But as is the case for many working children in Peru whose families live in extreme poverty, education takes a back seat to the pressing needs of the present - the need to survive from day to day.

Ines has been helping her mother recycle rubbish for as long as she can remember.

She is a tiny beautiful child, with long brown hair, dark eyes and delicate features, who looks much younger than her six years.

She says she often works all day, separating glass, metal and cardboard as she sifts through piles of rubbish. She does not go to school, she does not play with her friends or toys.

"I help my mummy", she says. "I don't hurt myself very often on the glass."

School's out

Freddy Calixto works with a non-governmental organisation called Proceso Social (Social Process) which is trying to help children like Diego and Ines in Las Lomas de Carabayllo.

Supported by foreign charities, like Comic Relief in the UK, the group is trying to help raise awareness of the need to end child labour and the importance of childhood education.

"Even though many of the children we help go to school, many of them are falling behind, because education just isn't seen as important," said Mr Calixto.

Proceso Social is also trying to teach families skills that might give them a better chance of finding work in an environment where there is a shortage of skilled labour and a surplus of non-skilled workers.

Diego and Ines are just two of the estimated 20 million children between the ages of five and 14 who work in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Many of them are forced to work long hours in cramped, dark or filthy conditions, victims of exploitation that ranges from verbal abuse to sexual assault. Many of these children do not go to school.

Those who do, like Diego, often fall behind their classmates because they have been raised in an environment where their parents are uneducated and where the need for money now outweighs the need for education - or because after hours of work, they are simply too tired to learn.

Lawyer helps Peru's street kids
09 Jul 03 |  South East Wales
Country profile: Peru
06 May 04 |  Country profiles


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