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Eradicating child labor
The government and the First Lady's Office launched the National Plan for the Elimination of the Worse Forms of Child Labor yesterday. The plan calls for annual programs that will help reduce the number of children who are obliged to work by 2015. First Lady Margarita Cedeno de Fernandez, US ambassador to the DR Hans H. Hertell, Labor Ministry sub-minister Daniel Rondon Monegro and vice-president Rafael Alburquerque were among the attendees at yesterday's event. Alburquerque commented that during the 1990s child labor was common in the DR but that the fight against this type of labor is a reality in the DR today.
Cedeno, quoted in Hoy, said that 436,000 kids in the country, between the ages of 5 and 17, are at high risk of contracting disease. Cedeno said that of these children, 80% work in degrading situations that endanger their lives. The First Lady also commented on how these children are also the victims of prostitution and are hired to carry drugs. Ambassador Hertell said that since 1995 the U.S. Department of Labor has donated more than US$535 million in funds to fight forced child labor and said that the funds have taken 27,000 kids in the DR out of forced hard labor. (2 March 2007)

Still though there isn’t enough attention within the public sphere or resources dedicated to helping the most needy children inevitably leaving children behind to fend for themselves. On a typical day driving around Santo Domingo or any large city large numbers of children can be seen walking around aimlessly looking for their next score, looking for their next RD$5.00, their next meal or their next hit of drugs. This is the case of Martin, a shoe shine boy that parades around the Gazcue section of Santo Domingo. Martin has been on the streets for a while now, the streets are his home, and yet with the misery that surrounds him he finds a way to make a smile. The smile though is more of a survival tool than anything else.

Martin the shoe shine boy
Martin is a shoe shine boy walking up and down Maximo Gomez looking for anyway to make a buck to buy some food. His gangly body can barely hold up his wooden shoe shine box and the pennies he makes during the day aren’t barely enough. During the day Martin hangs out in front of the Hotel Lina hoping that a tourist can give him a charity peso or two. Though he says that he loses out on business because the Hotel has a shoe shine chair and shiner already. So when things are slow he hangs out around APEC University hoping the shine to the shoes of college students, professors or passer byers. At times he hangs around the cafeterias or food vendors hoping that a patron will give him the left over foods they don’t eat. At times he acts as a security guard offering to protect a student’s car or do any other odd chore that appears. When he is tired he will take a nap on one of the park benches at APEC or walk down Maximo Gomez and take a nap at the park across the street from the McDonalds. He is at times joined by some of his friends who also are on the streets. Some of his friends resort to begging for food or garbage dump fishing though some of these children resort to drug running. On this particular night one of Martin’s friends offered to get me some drugs if I wanted. Curiously, I asked what he could get and said whatever. "Marijuana, crack, some powder. Tell me and I can get it for you real quick." As the conversation continued more and more of these children appeared out of the night. This was their "gang" which is just a loose collection of kids who are looking out for each other everyday. Martin says that he has been to a children’s home before to get food, but has left on several occasions, not wanting to stay. He says that he gets high from his shoe shine materials and adds that he doesn’t know his father. His mother cares about him, he says, but as he went on the streets to make money he just stayed and never went back home. I asked Martin what he wanted out of life and quietly pointed to a black Mercedes that drive by at that moment saying, "Can you imagine me in one of those." Though a nice place to live would be more than enough.

Organizations that help
The DR signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, but the country is still behind where it needs to be in this regard. The United Nation’s Children’s Fund is in the DR assisting and cooperating with organizations that are dedicated to children. There are a variety of non-governmental organizations that are fully dedicated to working with street children and street workers, though they admittedly realize that this type of humanitarian work is an uphill battle. Most children’s homes g out on to the streets, finding children and bringing them to the homes, feeding them and bathing them for the night. But a lack of resources or the children’s unwillingness to stay makes the cycle hard to break. In the DR Caminantes, based in Boca Chica, Accion Callejera, which is in Santiago and Muchachas y Muchachos Don Bosco, in Santo Domingo are three of the biggest organizations dedicated to helping street children. Also, organizations like Yo Tambien, The Nina Consortium, Ninos del Camino, Quedate Con Nosotros, Casa Acogida, La Pastoral Juvenil all work in cooperation with the Consejo Nacional para la Ninez (CONANI) to help educate and provide health services and some form of housing for as many children as they can. The work is hard and there is much to do, but there are people out there willing to make some sacrifices so that these children can have a chance. And for some, a chance to succeed is all they can hope for.
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