Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Child labour

Timorese children can be found on the streets of Dili selling “sigaru” (cigarettes), “paun” (bread), “dosi” (cakes and sweet bread such as donuts), “modo” (vegetables), “tahu” (tofu) and tempeh, seasonal “aifuan” (fruit such as mandarins, pineapples, mangoes), “mina” (cooking oil), “jornál” (newspapers), and mobile telephone (credit) cards. Children are often conductors on “mikrolets” but thank goodness, not also the drivers! Most of these children are boys between the ages of 5 and 15 with many at the younger end of the spectrum.

Every morning between 6:00 and 6:30am, a young boy walks past our house shouting in rapid succession “paun, paun, paun, paun” as he makes his way through our neighbourhood selling households their breakfast staple. His voice is usually the first I hear upon waking. The bread is always the same: small white bread rolls introduced by the Portuguese during colonial times. Each roll costs 5c. However, I never buy them because they have little nutritional value and unfortunately, multigrain or brown bread is unheard of in Timor (unless you are a rich “malae” who can purchase such imported bread from Australia or Malaysia). Not long after the “paun” boy follows the “dosi” boy. On occasion I have purchased a donut to see what they’re like but I find them greasy, not very sweet and therefore not very appetising (the icing is butter or margarine with a few coloured sprinkles (like hundreds and thousands)). Next comes the “modo” boy with a very select range of vegetables, usually of the leafy green variety which are often grown in the sewers and as it’s impossible to tell, I pass on them. The last of the morning sellers are the “tahu” girls who carry their goods in large buckets on their heads. Again, each piece costs 5c. I often miss the “tahu” girls as I’ve left for work by the time they make their rounds which is unfortunate as tempeh is impossible to get other than from the open markets (of which there are two in Dili) and which I have yet to visit as I cannot figure out how to shop without the crowds and fierce sun beating down on me resulting in possible heat stroke!

The family we rent our home from also “employ” their children to do tasks that we in the West would think dangerous and inappropriate for a child. Recently some of the younger boys and their friends were sweeping the roof of the house currently being built. A huge monsoon rain starting pelting down and they all took cover on the roof under an eave. Both girls and boys (and their cousins) have been assisting Senyor Raphael dig up the ground of the house for which we believe will result in a newly laid concrete floor. Upon arrival home last night at around 7:45pm, the kids were all heaving out buckets full of gravel by the light of one lamp. Needless to say, absolutely no safety equipment is used and their feet are shod in thongs or they’re barefoot. Often my main concern is will they get enough food to eat to replace all the energy their little bodies have expended!

On the “mikrolet” ride home last night I sat next to a young boy of about 7 from my neighbourhood; the very same one that I witnessed smoking on a previous journey home and whom I have written about in a previous post (see M is for Mikrolets, Mosquitos, Men and Marriage). He appeared yet again to be on his own so I said to him, “O hela iha Rai Kotu ka?” (You live in Rai Kotu yes?). He nodded and I responded with “hau moos” (me also). I think he was a little “moe” (shy) and “matan dukur” sleepy as soon he was “dukur” (asleep). I kept my eye on him as we were about to approach our stop and as he wasn’t going to wake up, I touched his leg and said “fanu” (wake up). We got off the “mikrolet” and proceeded to cross the busy road and walk down our street “hamutuk” (together). He started talking to me very “lalais” (quickly) and I had to ask him to speak “neineik” (slowly) as I am learning Tetun but children all over the world love talking quickly so my plea went unheard. I was in the middle of asking him, “O ba eskola ka lae?” (You go to school or not?), when he promptly went off to the side of the road for a pee so I bid my adieu with “ate amanyá” (see you tomorrow).

Children in Dili attend school from either 7:30am to 12:30pm or 12:30pm to 5:30pm (5 hours attendance in all). This is because there are many children, not enough teachers and classrooms to accommodate them all together for a full day (the teacher student ratio is approximately 1:60). There are six children in the family we rent our house from and two of them go to school in the morning, and the other two in the afternoon (the two eldest are at university and technical college respectively). I hope that most of the child labourers I see in the morning ploughing the streets of my neighbourhood are attending the afternoon school session. However, approximately 25 – 35% of children do not attend school in Timor.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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