Compassion Helps Release Colombian Children from Child Labor

Compassion Helps Release Colombian Children from Child Labor

By: Henry Alberto Guarín, Compassion Colombia Communications Specialist   |   Posted: May 25, 2006

Previously a full-time food vendor, Diego Armando is now one of the many children released by Compassion from the grueling demands of child labor.

It's Sunday afternoon. A sea of green and white flags waves furiously throughout the hot, crowded soccer stadium. Thousands of screaming, clapping and whistling fans begin to chant: "Cali, Cali, Cali!"

In the midst of the cheering crowd a 14-year-old boy stands quietly. He is dreaming of one day wearing the "Sporting Cali" jersey for this team, an important soccer club in Colombia. Yet just as he begins imagining fans wildly cheering for him, the boy's thoughts are interrupted.

"Hey kid, how much for a cheesecake?" someone shouts."

"It's 1,000 pesos, Se񯲬" responds Diego Armando GuzmᮠBedoya. The boy turns back to his work. Diego is a food vendor at soccer games in Cali Stadium. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), more than 2 million child laborers live in Colombia. Because of Colombia's growing rural poverty, millions of families have fled to cities like coastal Cali where they often feel forced to employ their children in order to survive.

The Plight of a Community's Child Workers

Diego's own work situation used to be much worse. Until recently, the aspiring soccer player was a daily street vendor in his impoverished neighborhood, Barrio La Esperanza. That changed after Yaneth Bolañ¯³¬ project director of the local Compassion-assisted Betania Child Development Institute (CO-160), met the enterprising young man.

"Most of the children in this community are street vendors," Yaneth reports. "Since many parents don't have stable jobs in this part of Cali, every family member must work. In the worst cases, children drop out of school to work full time. In the best of cases, our children attend school in the morning and work in the afternoon."

True Child Advocacy

Concerned about Diego, Yaneth spoke with the teenager's father about his son's work. She convinced him it was more important for the teenager to go to school and attend the project than work full time. As a result, today Diego attends junior high school in the mornings and the Compassion center in the afternoons.

But the adjustment from full-time work on the streets hasn't been easy.

Yaneth claims that children in Diego's situation experience a number of problems. For example, when Diego started attending the Compassion center he exhibited aggressive behaviors.

"Children who are street vendors often present this type of behavior," she explains. "Daily exposed to dangerous situations, these children develop defensive mechanisms to protect themselves."

Yet through the loving support and guidance offered by project staff members, Diego is now doing much better. And he still has his dream.

One day, he says, "I want to leap from being a food vendor in the stadium onto the soccer field as a professional sports star!"

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