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Latin America has a large number of children who live and work on the streets and this case is no different in the Dominican Republic. Considering that a large number of nations in the region are labeled "developing nations," the levels of poverty are extremely high, which push many out into the work force to do whatever they can to make a few bucks. Poverty has no age limit and many times young children, as young as 7 and 8 years old, can be found on the streets peddling cheap goods, washing windows, shining shoes and in some cases doing more extreme things like stealing or even drug running in order to make some money. Though some steps have been taken by government officials and non-governmental organizations to try and curve the number of children who work on the streets, or make the streets their homes, there are still a high number of children who don’t have any other option.

These children are vulnerable in the dangerous life of the streets and some will find refuge in drugs, crime, or prostitution as a means to survive. As a means of survival these children, especially with no other type of family structure, build small networks among themselves, what some would call "families," as a way to protect themselves against predators that try and take advantage of them. But the predators are at times behind this situation. It is common practice that some of these street children are exploited by persons who force the children to work as beggars or street washers and vendors and then hand the money over to them. At times even whole families are forced out on the streets to beg. In other cases when a child does make some money he or she runs into the danger that an older or stronger street child can take his money from him, making the small gangs that they build even more important.

The headlines:
Though media outlets have written about the seriousness of the problems regarding street children, there is barely enough information published that gives full credence to the situation. Children’s organizations struggle to get public and private funding and on the rare occasions that media outlets highlight these children the information leaves much to the imagination. These are the headlines, from 2007, regarding street laborers and street children that appeared in Dominican newspapers. These headlines can give you a slight idea of what these children go through though they fail to fully depict the problem.

Many children work in Southwest
Around 24% of school aged children in the southwest part of the DR are victims of child labor according to statistics released by the Latin American Faculty for Social Sciences (FLACSO). The study, done by Alicia Ziffrer, Miguel Escala, Alexandra Santelises and Guillermo Milan, revealed that in the provinces of Azua, Barahona, Independencia and San Juan de la Maguana 59.2% of homes have a monthly income of RD$5,000.
(12 July 2007)

Minors at work in Santiago
A group of civic organizations have released a study on child labor in Santiago and the results did not make for easy reading. The report was released at a meeting between the Ministry of Labor, Accion Callejera (Street Action), the municipality, the Association of Evangelical Pastors and the Women's Support Nucleus where an agreement was signed in support of the World Day against Child Labor. The final report says that 76,000 minors are at work in Santiago, and most of them are either sexually exploited, work on farms or in domestic settings. Nearly one thousand of them are reported to work as "divers" scavenging at the Rafey garbage dump. According to the report put together by the Center for Urban Studies of the PUCMM in Santiago, 450,000 minors are being used for labor, sometimes in the worst way. Of these, 19% are in Santiago. Local efforts include Accion Callejera and its programs at three different centers.
(13 June 2007)

DR on Watch List
The United States embassy released a report from the State Department yesterday that placed the Dominican Republic on a "watch list" for human trafficking, particularly of women and children. The press release says that the country "is on the Observation List Category 2 for its inability to demonstrate evidence of conscientious efforts to combat human trafficking, particularly in supplying assistance to such victims and by not conducting vigorous actions to counter official complicity in such trafficking." The report also points out that the Dominican Republic is a country that originates, transfers and serves as a destination for men, women and children destined for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, and that women and children are taken from the country to Western Europe, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, Panama and Suriname for sexual exploitation. The document says that the Dominican Republic does not comply with the minimum standards needed to put an end to human trafficking. (13 June 2007)

World day against child labor
Today is international day against child labor and despite this being a big problem in the Dominican Republic, Diario Libre writes that 47% of Dominicans don't have the proper information on the issue. According to a report released by the Labor Ministry and the PUCMM University, "Perceptions of Child Labor by Dominican Society" there are 436,000 child workers in the DR and 43% of the population say that they "tolerate and justify dignified child labor". In fact, Hoy writes that only 5.8% of the population is against child labor. Part of the study also indicates that 60% of Dominicans feel that children can work without it interfering with their studies. Elias Dinzey, who presented the findings, says that this perception needed to change. In all 2,200 people were interviewed as part of the research and according to the findings, 15% believed that work teaches children good values. (13 June 2007)

DR and malnutrition
The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has called child malnutrition a "moral issue" and a "critical economic concern." Ban Ki-moon spoke at the launch of the report "The Cost of Hunger: Economic and Social Impact of Child Malnutrition in Central America and the Dominican Republic." The report was prepared by the UN's World Food Program and the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC, or CEPAL in Spanish), and says that 14% of children in the region suffer from malnutrition. The report says that this costs the region US$6.7 billion or 6.4% of GDP. Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras were the most critical countries, and the Dominican Republic was situated in the middle of the group, below Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The study traces six decades of nutritional history. The new study has found that child mal nutrition in Central America and the Dominican Republic in 2004 alone cost those economies US$6.7 billion - or 6.4 percent of the region's entire Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - a burden that severely undermines international and national efforts to eradicate hunger and poverty.
"This study is a wake up call to the international community that widespread child hunger is not only a moral and humanitarian issue, but has economic consequences as well," said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran. See http://www.eclac.org
 
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