Under the law System of Protection and Equity (art. 46), the Government of Ecuador guarantees special attention and protection to girls, boys and teens in situations of abuse, violence, sexual exploitation, drug, and alcoholism —as well as priority attention in cases of disaster and war. There is also a clear prohibition on labour exploitation for children under age 15, although exceptions are admitted on instances where said labour does not involve harmful practices or compromises the child’s education.
These provisions were made in theory —in reality, the opposite is happening. In big villages, the figure of child labour is present at nearly all times, especially in communities that depend on farming as a mean of subsistence. Boys are called to help during the crop season, which means that they often do not attend school in a prolongued time.
In the poor villages of Ecuador the people are very machista —the family is under control of the father, who is considered the sole breadwinner. The women are in charge of the house chores, most of the time they get married after they’ve graduated secondary school and birth three children in average. Farming is very common —if not the only way of living— in these villages, and the craft is passed along from the father to his eldest son, who must go with him and learn the skills in order to become a farmer himself.
In my trip, I was able to experience the strong culture in the villages, the respect the father had in each household, and how the children learned to work from an early age. I observed how the children behaved: a hard cover masking underlying sadness and the desire to play like any child wants. On top of that, a freight train of determination to work and help the family.
I am not criticizing this culture, as I understand that the fathers’ stance on this issue is necessary for the survival of these families —the only way they can live. I am talking from a western education point of view, where children are out playing without a care in the world. But how can I say it is wrong for boys to learn from their father the work of the garden and animals?
It can be difficult to understand how other people carry their lives, even more so if your cultural background is markedly different from theirs and you have never experienced their reality before. But… however difficult it may be to grapple with the cultural shock, it does not justify judging and demonizing others if you have never found yourself in their shoes, living how they need to live and doing what they have to do to procure the best available options for their family.
Jocelyn Flores – Fighting Poverty in Ecuador