The National Crisis Forces Cuban Children To Work Says the Official Press

The newspaper Sierra Maestra assures that the child labor cases are the childrens’ own exceptions to “the complexity of context”

Children and adolescents who work are treated in the article as the children’s own exceptions “to the complexity of context” / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 June 2024 — One of the pillars of social welfare that for years the Cuban regime has defended as one of its greatest conquests collapsed this Monday, when the official press recognized that in Santiago de Cuba – as in the rest of the Island – there are cases of child labor. Children and adolescents in this situation are treated in the article as the children’s own exceptions to “the complexity of context” – a new euphemism for the economic crisis – and, although on no occasion are figures or statistics mentioned, officialdom insists that there are few.

The Sierra Maestra newspaper begins by talking about Luis, a sixth grader (between 10 and 11 years old) who sells bread in the mornings to help his mother and is also in charge of his three-year-old brother. The international regulations and charters that speak of children’s rights, of which Cuba is a signatory, speak of categorically proscribing child employment, but the newspaper says that “currently there are some cases, typical of the complexity of the context, that deserve to be evaluated differently, as a preventive policy and effective action.”

The idea, however, is nothing more than a suggestion that does not delve further into the problem and remains half-baked.

The article, which addresses a problem that is often ignored by officialdom, also cuts through the debate with a string of documents and articles that regulate work at an early age. On the Island, in the case of adolescents who finish compulsory education and want to start working, the State has rules and permits so that they can access jobs suitable for their age.

Among the most common jobs are the sale of bread, gardening work or remuneration for tasks such as throwing away garbage

Attention to employees between 15 and 18 years of age is strict, and it is always required that the work is not carried out in difficult or stressful environments. However, and although Sierra Maestra recognizes that these are ages in which social pressure begins to arise because the adolescent assumes certain responsibilities, the issue is still not addressed thoroughly.

The official press focused on the work of educational institutions and mass organizations – such as the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution – which, it says, often discover cases of child labor when children and adolescents begin to miss school. Among the most common jobs are the sale of bread, gardening work or remuneration for tasks such as throwing away garbage.

For those who hinder the development of minors, the penalties can range from fines to prison. Families were also identified as the main ones responsible for the care of minors.

However, some “educational” policies that parents and students have been complaining about for decades, such as the so-called Schools in the Countryside or early entry into Military Service, are not included in the report although many consider them forms of “exploitation.”

On the contrary, the article talks about less pressing issues, such as university students who work and study at the same time. Although having both responsibilities can take these students away from their studies, the situation is not seen as harmful by society or the laws.

In fact, the State itself often promotes the employment of higher education students to fill teacher positions or other occupations in key sectors that suffer the stampede of professionals, and it pays these substitute teachers less than the conventional salaries of the sector.

At the beginning of the 2023-2024 academic year, several newspapers on the Island announced the formation of “quotas” of students to fill empty places in schools throughout the country. Likewise, it is common that in times of “crisis” students of health-related careers are asked to carry out vector control – Hygiene and Epidemiology tasks – as part of their work practices.

Many students also manage their own job search and end up prioritizing employment that gives them economic independence over options would define a career. According to Israel Riverón Sánchez, provincial deputy director of Employment in Santiago de Cuba, at the end of May more than 400 university students were working, of which only 120 did so in the state sector.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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