Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Children of the mangrove swamps

I was in Puerto Parada, El Salvador Monday. Puerto Parada is a very poor community bordering the mangrove swamps along the Bay of Jiquilisco. It is a community heavily damaged by flooding earlier this year (more about that in a subsequent post).

What troubled me most about my visit there was information I learned from a local Lutheran pastor. He told me that 50% of the local children do not attend school, because their parents send them out to work in the mangrove swamps. This is a particularly grueling form of child labor, where children gather mollusks in the estuary waters of the mangrove swamps.

The US Department of Labor described the story of one child in those swamps:

In the rush to get to work, she didn’t take time to eat breakfast. It was more important to make sure she had the things she needed to endure a workday that often meant up to 14 hours in mud and danger -- about a dozen cigars and at least four pills to keep her from falling asleep. Ironically, a good part of the money that she earned was used for buying these "indispensable" items.

Down in the mangrove swamp without shoes, this young girl had to withstand inclement weather, mosquito bites and cuts and scrapes caused by having to extract the curiles from deep in the mud. At times, the cigars helped to repel the mosquitos. However, when she ran out of them, Alejandra just had to put up with the insects as she moved from branch to branch and from one area to another in search of shells. When she returned from work, her body was nearly always covered with bites.

Her earnings amounted to very little. In a day, if she was lucky, Alejandra, the eldest of eight siblings, might manage to collect two baskets of curiles (150 shells), worth little more than 12 colones (US$ 1.40).

On account of her long day, she had no time to go to school, much less play with other children. And in any case, she preferred not to join them as they said that she had a bad odor and ostracized her for being a curiles worker.
The plight of child workers in the mangrove swamps was also highlighted in the documentary "Not a Game":



Deep poverty destroys the childhood of these little ones, and eradicating this practice and the conditions which cause it should be a goal of everyone. The US recently announced a $10 million grant to El Salvador to help combat child labor in this country.

You can learn more about Puerto Parada from Linda's El Salvador blog here.

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