Spotlight on CIRD in Paraguay
Education, Hygiene, and Self-esteem for Child Laborers
March 2006. Around 266,000 boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 17 are working in Paraguay. Most of these children work in agriculture, mainly on family farms. Around 16% of working children work in shops or markets, about 9% are domestic workers, and around 8% are street vendors, selling items such as newspapers and sundries. Prostitution is also a prevalent issue in some neighborhoods. Among these working children almost 14% work an average of 34 hours per week, and 35% do not attend school at all.1

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Photo: A group of CIRD’s CIRCLE beneficiaries
Local NGO CIRD is a partner of Winrock International’s CIRCLE project. Through CIRCLE, CIRD is working to reduce child labor by providing school vouchers and supplies to subsidize the costs of enrolment in the formal educational system for child laborers. In addition, they developed an “education-recreation” package to boost former child laborers’ completion of school. Before or after their formal classes, the beneficiaries participate in informal activities at community centers. In this way, children are kept off of the streets for longer hours. The project is working in the districts of Asunción, Limpio and Mariano Roque Alonso of the Central Department, one of the regions with the greatest number of poor people in the country.

When looking at the factors in success at school, CIRD identified basic health problems of the child laborers as some of the most pressing issues in the targeted communities. With healthcare infrastructure lacking in the region, they have come up with innovative ways of approaching the general health of the children. One strategy has been to treat parasites and lice through changing children’s modes of conducts and raising their awareness about personal hygiene. This has proved to be very important for raising the self-esteem of the targeted children as they enter a school system with non-working children who may not have the same problems.

CIRD has had to introduce this unexpected project component slowly and steadily. For example, in the beginning of the project the children were extremely reluctant to bathe themselves, and the teachers in the community centers had to closely supervise them in order to prevent “escapes” and protests in the bathrooms. Today, bathing has become a routine for most of the children attending the education-recreation centers, and each time a new child is accepted to a centre, she or he is encouraged to adopt the same habits. The teachers believe that this practice has notably improved the self-esteem of the children. Today, they pay more attention to themselves and they suffer less from parasites and lice, which also improves their nutritional status, and afterward has a positive effect on their school performance. This success has based on the commitment and insistence of the teachers, who have raised the children’s awareness about personal hygiene without forcing it upon them.

Through this innovative strategy, CIRD has shown that education does not only equip children with reading and writing skills, but that the role of education is to change bad habits and teach good ones to improve the overall wellbeing of a child.

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1International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), ’Internationally Recognised Core Labour Standards in Paraguay,’ Report for the WTO General Council Review of the Trade Policies of Paraguay, Geneva, 27 and 29 April 2005, http://www.icftu.org/www/pdf/paraguaycls2005.pdf