Education for a Brighter Future in Peru
Today in Peru, an estimated 3.3 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are engaged in forced labor—much of it hazardous. And, despite focused government efforts to combat this inhumane practice, these numbers are only expected to rise—the result of increasing income inequality and an overall lack of opportunity, especially for rural and indigenous families. This is why, across the country, missionaries from the Red de Casas Don Bosco (“Don Bosco Houses Network”) are leading the charge for change.
“When families are living on less than $2 per day, many parents often see no other way to survive than to send their children to work,” explains Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Others actually abandon their children—or their children run away—because there isn’t enough to eat. These boys and girls usually end up on the street, where they are especially vulnerable to the worst forms of forced labor and exploitation: drug trafficking, child prostitution, brick-making, scavenging and working in gold and silver mines, among many others.”
In addition to the lasting physical and emotional tolls of such work, these children lose precious time in school—which places them at an educational disadvantage that both perpetuates the cycle of poverty and increases the risk of ongoing, generational child labor.
“Children and young people need us; they need to speak, to be heard and to be accompanied,” says Father José Valdiva of the Don Bosco Houses Network. This system of 11 Salesian-run boarding homes in Peru offers housing, meals, physical and mental health services, and educational opportunities to as many as 600 youth. Missionaries and staff also advocate for policies and programs that help address the root causes of poverty and child labor in their country.
At the beginning of February, delegates from the network met to discuss how best to broaden their educational reach.
“Missionaries in Peru have known this all along, but a recent study conducted by Peruvian author Mariana Benavente confirms it,” says Fr. Mark. “She discovered that, despite their heartbreaking circumstances, girls and boys living and working on the streets retain a remarkable optimism. As many as 86 percent envision a better future for themselves, and 70 percent want to attend college. If we can help turn their dreams into reality—by returning working children to school, teaching them well, and preparing them for their exams—they can go to college, they can support themselves and their families, and they can break the cycle of poverty and despair. In other words, they can be catalysts for eliminating child labor in Peru once and for all.”
For more than 125 years, Salesian programs throughout Peru have focused on education and workforce development, to help ensure youth can gain the education and skills they need to find and retain long-term employment.
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