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ARGENTINA
Young picketers
9/26/2002
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About 250,000 children and adolescents under age 15 work in the service and commercial sectors in urban areas.

An estimated 500,000 children in Argentina scavenge for items that can be sold for recycling, a survival strategy that involves entire families (LP, May 1, 2000).

Although a 1976 law set the minimum working age at 14, figures from the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INDEC), UNICEF and labor unions indicate that about 250,000 children and adolescents under age 15 work in the service and commercial sectors in urban areas. About 180,000 children work in rural areas, while police statistics indicate that about 50,000 children work in clandestine activities, such as smuggling, hired crime and prostitution.

Many children also accompany their parents at "pickets," demonstrations by unemployed workers who block streets and roads to protest the lack of jobs and social programs that could help them survive the crisis (LP, July 2, 2001).

Entire families turn out for the demonstrations, with parents, children and grandparents setting up camp along the roadside. When the protests continue for days, some of the children continue going to school if the demonstration is near their home. Children in white school smocks can often be seen with their parents at gatherings of picketers or at the protesters’ communal meals.

Many, however, drop out during the protests. To keep these children from falling behind, the teachers’ union organizes open-air classes, conducted by volunteer teachers, at the protest sites. Their solidarity has been well received by parents.

During one recent protest, a child declared that when he grew up, he wanted to be "a picketer, like my father." Many mothers, however, take a dim view of the idea.

"I don’t want my son to be a picketer," one mother said, "not because I don’t consider it a worthy activity, but because I think the country has to improve, that there must be social measures to help those who have the least, and chances created for all kids to get ahead. If my son grows up to be a picketer, it would mean that all our efforts ended in failure. I want my children to study and to have a better future."

—From Buenos Aires, Dafne Sabanes Plou


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