TACOMA, Washington — The abominable practice of criadazgo (roughly translated to serfdom in the context of child labor) is the practice of taking in a child from a less privileged family to work at a household without receiving any pay or education. In other words, it is a form of slavery that affects youths ranging from ages five to seventeen. Not only does it deprive them of their right to education, but minors often work long hours and experience sexual and physical abuse.
Criadazgo in Paraguay
Like in many other Latin American countries, criadazgo has existed in Paraguay practically since the country gained independence from Spain more than 200 years ago. Over the centuries, it has consolidated itself into Paraguayan society and was only declared illegal in 2001.
Yet, in 2016, 18% of domestic workers in Paraguay were between 10 to 19 years old. Children often have to work as part of debt bondage, in the cattle-raising sector, as street vendors and in households doing domestic work.
Low-income families often cannot afford to raise their offspring. In many instances, middle and upper-class households buy children to work for an indefinite number of years, often continuing to do domestic work even after 18 years of age. In the worst cases, this type of child labor introduces youths to trafficking and forced prostitution.
The 2011 National Survey of Child and Adolescent activities indicated that children whose first language is Guaraní were more likely to be trafficked into criadazgo. Poverty is prevalent in rural Paraguay, where Guaraní is the main language. Furthermore, the agency noted that girls in rural areas leave school earlier than boys, likely falling into domestic child labor. As per 2012, over 13% of children studying in rural areas do not complete their basic education.
Deeply rooted in Paraguayan society, criadazgo is an abhorrent cultural practice. Still, some activists like Tina Alvarenga speak up against it and denounce the abuse they endured as children. The government has also taken robust legal action against this praxis, which has yielded tangible results to abolish child labor and criadazgo.
Decisive Actions Denouncing Child Labor in Paraguay
Tina Alvarenga, a Paraguayan indigenous activist, trafficked during her youth into criadazgo, is currently denouncing the abuse and mistreatment over 47,000 children suffer today. Alvarenga, reminiscing of her childhood working as a criadita, states, “I dreamed this was not always going to be my situation, that I could be a professional and help a lot of people.” She explains that “we must put to an end to this modern practice of slavery as a society.”
Alvarenga’s averment has not been in vain, as child labor is decreasing exponentially in Paraguay. In 1995, there were over 400,000 child workers; as of 2019, there are less than 50 thousand, thanks to various national and international initiatives.
The National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate the Exploitation of Children (CONAETI) coordinates government efforts to eradicate child labor with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights since 2002. One of their main functions is to enforce child labor laws and reduce social exclusion and discrimination, aiming to abolish child labor.
Furthermore, CONAETI aims to grant access to free quality education and livelihood alternatives for people who worked as children. It also prohibits government acquisition of goods and services involving child labor. The government has taken strict legal action against crimes exploiting children as domestic workers by hiring specialized prosecutors and allocating resources to investigations in remote areas.
U.S. Help and Looking Forward
The U.S. Department of Labor has been crucial in aiding the national government to abolish child labor: the program Paraguay Okakuaa (Paraguay Progresses) established in 2015 with joint efforts is destined quasi entirely to enforcing labor laws and providing livelihood opportunities for families vulnerable to child labor. USDOL has been working in Paraguay since 2001 and currently offers direct services to over 1,200 children from ages five to thirteen, 1600 adolescents and over 1,300 households in rural areas.
Considering the efforts to abolish child labor in the last years and decades in Paraguay, more actions are necessary to eradicate criadazgo completely. The existing initiatives, however, have already shown good progress and saved many children from it. The hope for the future is that children from all parts of the country can receive an education and grow up within their families.
– Araí Yegros