Patricia Cruzado, 17, a child worker from Lima in Peru, began work selling cake on the streets of Lima when she was eight. A year later, she joined the National Movement of Organised Children and Adolescent Workers.
Now she has a message for concerned adults: "We dont want adults to be sorry for us and say, Oh, the poor child workers! We want them to listen to us and work with us so that children can work in a safe environment and live in dignity."
She told a padare at assembly that Lima has 1.3 million child workers, while another million work in rural areas. "Many of them come from very poor families and some ... live on the streets. They work so they can have food. If they dont have food, they die.
She said some are called independent workers, doing things like selling sweets, and many of these children are domestics.
And she was positive about it. "When I started work I felt a sense of joy. I was showing my solidarity with my family. I was contributing to the family. It meant I could buy my school uniform and things I needed for school."
Patricia began by going to school in the mornings and working until 5 in the evenings. "Then I would go home to play with my friends and do my homework. Child workers dont have much time to play and enjoy their childhood. But we are still happy.
"We live in a culture of death. There is violence everywhere. We want to create a new culture where children are no longer seen as problems but as people with rights and dignity who can make a real contribution to our society."
These days Patricia works for half the day in a project organised by her movement. She is one of 100 children and adolescents working in a municipal garden. They also propagate trees which the council plants in streets and public places.
She said working had taught here some very valuable things. "It has taught me ethical principals, how to live, how to accept responsibility. I have also learnt about other children and their lives."
Patricia said she could put her philosophy simply: "We say yes to work with dignity, no to exploitation. We say yes to work where children are protected, no to mistreatment. We say yes to work that is recognised, no to exclusion and marginalisation.
"Theres nothing wrong with work. ... God saw it was good. What is wrong is the way children are exploited, beaten and sexually abused."
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Read other articles in this issue:
Mandela to WCC: tribute, and the development goal
Four fundamental questions for churches
Experiences people have had: Living the ecumenical connection
Orthodox preachers shares testimony about being lost
Visitors take home gift of a covenant
Bulgarian Orthodox quit WCC
Looking for the vision
WCC to set up commission with Orthodox churches
Trees will be reminder of the 8th assembly
Listen! Children can work
Letters: Provocative, misleading
50 years ago: Report from Amsterdam
Zimbabwe Christians criticise government
WCC celebrates 50th anniversary
Assembly yes to Christian 'forum'
|8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary|