Brazil Expands Program to End Child Labor
by Joelle Diderich
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso launched a program Friday to get back to school 5,000 children who are working illegally in orange groves in north-eastern Sergipe state, officials said.
Parents of the children, aged between seven and 14, will receive 25 reais ($22.30) a month for each child they send back to school, an amount roughly equivalent to the salary the youngsters would be earning in the groves.
The Sergipe state initiative is part of the Social Security Ministry's Brazil Child Citizen project, started in 1995, which aims to eradicate the widespread practice of child labor in this developing nation.
So far, 48,850 children have been enrolled in the program, the ministry said in a statement.
But this number pales in comparison to the estimated two million of Brazil's children working as cheap labor, according to the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers.
Children as young as seven work in quarries, orange groves and charcoal kilns for salaries that can be as low as one real ($0.89) per week, a spokeswoman for the ministry said.
Although the incomes are negligible, parents in economically depressed areas depend on the revenue brought in by four or five children and are often reluctant to send their offspring to school.
Brazil last year committed itself to the ambitious target of making sure every child aged seven to 14 attends class, as required by law.
The Child Citizen program, one of its weapons in the fight, has already been introduced in sisal plantations in Bahia, charcoal kilns in Mato Grosso do Sul and sugar cane plantations in Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco states.
But the project has yet to be extended to Sao Paulo state, where most of the country's orange groves and processing industries are located. Brazil is the world's biggest producer and exporter of orange juice.
"We're doing it by stages, going to the most critical regions first," the ministry spokeswoman told Reuters. "In distant regions the problem is probably much worse."
The ministry statement said in addition to paying parents to send their children to school, it would pay an additional 25 reais per child per month to state governments to fund extra-curricular education and leisure activities.
However, a lack of schools was hampering government efforts in some of the poorest states, such as Pernambuco in the north-east.
"There were some problems in Pernambuco because there was money to give to the parents but there were no schools for the children to study in," she said.
Charcoal kiln owners who had previously employed children eventually helped set up the schools, she added. The government hopes to expand the project in Pernambuco to include 60,000 children, up from 27,300 at the moment.
However, it warned the benefits would stop if attendance rates at school and other activities dropped below 80 percent.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.