When "family chores" interfere with a child's education, is that considered child labour?
Keros Degefe and his family are from Baredu Belo, Ethiopia, and they live on the razor's edge of poverty. Everyday is a struggle for survival and there is no margin of error for the crops to fail or the livestock to fall ill. Everyone in the family pitches in to help make ends meet. Keros's job is to look after the family livestock, a job that often interefered with his ability to go to school.
Keros' parents frequently kept him at home to work instead of letting him go to school. After all, what good is reading and writing if you don't have enough to eat every day? Naturally, Keros struggled in school. His sporadic attendance combined with a lack of basic learning materials like notebooks and pens (which his parents couldn't afford) made it practically impossible for Keros to learn.
Was this a form of child labour? Some would argue that working as a family unit is simply good parenting, and not "child labour" at all. No money was exchanged, Keros was living in a safe environment with his parents and siblings, he was not being abused or exposed to dangerous workplace conditions. On the other hand, as a child, Keros was being compelled to work instead of go to school - a harsh reality for his family if they were going to survive.
Perhaps it's a bit too easy to assign blame in these situations, or to rush into trying to solve the presenting problem without looking for the root causes. Poverty is complex, and it's ramifications are legion. Tragically, there are millions of cases of child labour that unequivocally constitute child abuse, and we must look closely at each case to determine the best way forward not only for the individual child, but for all future children of the community.
About three years ago Food for the Hungry (FH) community workers began to build a relationship with Keros' family. They got to know his parents and began to encourage them to make Keros' education a priority. Along with verbal encouragement, FH provided concrete assistance like school supplies and a school uniform to help make studying a viable option for their son.
In addition, through Child Sponsorship for Keros, his parents were offered income-generating skills training so that they would have more options for supporting their family and would no longer need their son's help at home.
With these changes, Keros felt motivated to begin working hard at school. It's amazing how, when someone believes in your potential, you start trying a lot harder. Through their relationship with FH staff as well as seeing Keros begin to excel at school, his parents made the sacrificial decision to send their son to school and to do everything they could to help him succeed. As a result, his classroom performance saw a steady and dramatic improvement - now Keros is one of the top ranked students in his class!
"I will go on learning until I complete a higher education!" Keros happily declares.
Keros' father is now quite proud of his son's achievemnts in school. Instead of keeping him home to work the family farm, he is committed - and equipped - to support Keros' education.
To sponsor a child and help more parents free their children from child labour, CLICK HERE.