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CHILDREN WHO FACE THE CHOICE: WORK OR DIE
Patricia Cruzado, a child worker from Lima, Peru, put this question to a World Council of Churches meeting on child rights Wednesday (9 December). Patricia, who is 17, began work selling cake on the streets of Lima when she was eight. She joined the National Movement of Organised Children and Adolescent Workers at the age of nine.
Patricia spoke through an interpreter to a Padare meeting at the WCC Eighth Assembly, being held (3-14 December) at Harare, Zimbabwe. Padare, the Shona word for meeting-place, is a programme of 400 events outside the official agenda.
There are 1.3 million child workers in Lima and another 1 million in the rural areas, she said. "Many of them come from very poor families and some of these families live on the streets. They work so they can have food. If they don't have food, they die.
"Some of them are what we call independent workers, doing things like selling sweets in the streets. Some work for other people. Many of these children are domestics. When I started work I felt a sense of joy. I was contributing to the family. It meant I could buy my school uniform and other things I needed for school."
Patricia went to school in the mornings and worked until 5pm. "Then I would go home to play with my friends and do my homework. Child workers don't have much time to play and enjoy their childhood. But we are still happy.
"We live in a culture of death. There is violence everywhere. We want to create a new culture where children are no longer seen as problems but as people with rights and dignity who can make a real contribution to our society."
These days Patricia works for half the day in a project organised by her movement. She is one of 100 children and adolescents working in a municipal garden. They also propagate trees which the council plants in streets and public places.
She says she has gained valuable lessons from working. "It has taught me ethical principles, how to live, how to accept responsibility. I have also learnt about other children and their lives."
Her philosophy is this: "We say "yes' to work with dignity, "no' to exploitation. We say "yes' to work where children are protected, "no' to mistreatment. We say "yes' to work that is recognised, "no' to exclusion and marginalisation.
"There's nothing wrong with work. Work is good. God worked when he created the world and God saw it was good. What is wrong is the way children are exploited, beaten and sexually abused.
"We don't want adults to be sorry for us and say, "Oh, the poor child workers!' We want them to listen to us and work with us so that children can work in a safe environment and live in dignity."
Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.