That’s what teachers told a group of girls when they reported sexual violence in their schools. If they spoke out, they were told, they’d be asked to leave the school, word would spread, and they might be forced to leave their communities.
In this sugar-growing community in South America, toilet facilities in schools are particularly risky places for girls, as are social events organized at school after hours. “The men get us to go behind the toilets and because there is no lighting they force us to do things which we don’t like,” explained the girls. “We can’t tell anyone, as even our women teachers ask us to be silent.”
Working instead of learning
Today marks the 14th World Day Against Child Labor, and this year the focus is on the critical role of quality education in tackling child labor. As Fairtrade continues working to eliminate and prevent unacceptable forms of child labor in and around producer organizations, it’s clear that a life-changing education requires much more than a building, books and instructors — we must place equal attention on ending gender-based violence.
Fairtrade International, working with producer organizations, has conducted focus groups and interviews in over 10 countries with 1,000 school-age children and young people in and near Fairtrade farms. Girls and boys alike talked about daunting barriers to education, and many could not see a future in their communities.
Girls in cocoa, sugar, cotton and tea-growing communities varyingly reported sexual harassment by teachers, alcohol use by boy students that leads to sexual activity and unwanted pregnancies, and an expectation of silent acceptance. While working on their families’ farms at the expense of an education isn’t acceptable — too many of these young people cannot seem to find a safer option.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), child labor has decreased by one-third since 2000, yet nearly 11% of children worldwide are still considered child laborers engaged in physically and mentally harmful work that deprives them of their potential and dignity. Sixty percent of those 168 million children toil away in the agriculture sector — many as unpaid workers on their families’ farms.