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Bolivia’s Child Workers: Their World Through their Eyes

One of the sights that many first time visitors to Bolivia mention when they come here is the legion of child laborers on the country’s streets.  It is a hard fact of life, not in Bolivia, but in almost any impoverished nation in the world.  Small girls walking from café to café selling gum.  Boys who haven’t hit eight yet working the afternoons shining shoes for a coin.

Below is a brief Blog post linked to an important new photo exposition in which some of Cochabamba’s child workers document visually the lives they lead here.

Bolivia’s Child Workers: Their World Through their Eyes

Jessica C. Aguirre

When we look out at our world, what do we see?  A new photo exposition from a non-profit children’s organization gives glimpses of the life of child workers in Cochabamba.

City cemeteries as sites to do homework on a break from cleaning, the battered tools of shoe cleaning kits and many precocious grins are found in these photographs, which have all been taken by the children themselves.

Armed with cameras and a bit of training from AVE (Educational Audiovisuals), the children set out to documents their lives, their daily experiences, their work and each other.  The result is a surprising set of photographs that, according to the small photographers, also serve as an expression of their frustration with entrenched discrimination.

“Some people are nice to us,” says Hilda, a 14 year-old who work in the cemetery, “but most people aren’t – they don’t recognize us as child workers they just think we’re street kids or drug addicts.”

Many children shrug off the fact that they work at all and instead hone in on the conditions of their labor; it is not fair, they say, that they are not treated with the same respect as adult workers.

While child labor is illegal in Bolivia, it is estimated that almost a third of the country’s children and adolescents work in extreme conditions.  Hilda is the fifth of eight siblings, and she works to support her family, “I help my mom buy vegetables and I cover the costs of my school; sometimes I help my dad and I help my brothers and sisters with their homework.”

But Hilda sees the opportunity to learn photography as a way to express her creativity and to find a voice to press for better working conditions.  Her favorite things to take pictures of are trees, animals and flowers.  Mostly flowers.

See the children’s photos here.

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