“Safe Schools”: Keeping vulnerable and working children in education in Peru
Access to safe and good quality education remains a widespread challenge across Peru, especially for many poor communities with a high prevalence of street-connected child labour, violence and exploitation. ChildHope and local partner Centro de Estudios Sociales y Publicaciones (CESIP) have begun to address these issues through targeted activities. They are providing direct educational support to children, as well as engaging key people and institutions in their lives: parents, teachers and the local government.
Three-and-a-half million people in Peru (approximately 14% of the population) live in situations of extreme poverty and homelessness. Two million are children and young people, of whom 1.2 million are engaged in some form of work – from agricultural labour to commercial sexual exploitation, both of which increase their risk of being trafficked or trapped in dangerous working situations.
In Lima alone, there are approximately 2000 children and young people living on the streets. However, this figure does not consider various transient forms of street-connectedness, especially linked to informal or unregulated employment, such as selling sweets, washing cars, street acrobatics, garbage collection, and even forced begging.
For example, a number of children in schools are street-connected in that they spend evenings, weekends, and even some of the days when they should be in school, working. As a result, they fall behind in class, either through lack of engagement, fatigue or difficult home/family circumstances (including violence and abuse). Those children returning to or starting school after time living on the streets may struggle to transition back into classroom learning.
The project approach
ChildHope and CESIP are in the second year of a three-year project in Lima: ‘Safe Schools: Promoting the protection of children and young people against mistreatment, sexual abuse and child labour’. The project works across eight schools in the sub-urban districts of Lima, with the aim of supporting vulnerable children to achieve academically, build their confidence and develop valuable life skills.
The project is working towards these outcomes through three key interventions:
- The first aims to challenge the context within which the children work and/or become street-connected. CESIP encourages the development of school child protection policies and aims to improve reporting processes – both within and beyond schools. This involves improving the links between schools and external safeguarding authorities to better protect children and young people. It also includes working with parents through workshops to raise awareness around issues such as violence in schools and the harmful impact of child labour. All eight schools have approved the implementation of measures to protect children and young people from mistreatment, sexual violence and child labour. This will be critical to improve the reporting of violence or abuse to the local authorities within what is currently a time-intensive and bureaucratic process.
- CESIP is supporting teachers to develop innovative and inclusive teaching strategies through educational reinforcement, psycho-pedagogic support and social skills activities. A psycho-pedagogic specialist supports teachers to develop engaging lesson plans and teaching strategies to support the learning of all children – especially those falling behind in class. Alongside the more academic subjects, social skills workshops – using art, theatre, and dance activities – aim to encourage creativity and build the children’s self-confidence. In addition, therapeutic support is available for children identified as requiring more intensive attention during small group sessions.
- CESIP has signed collaborative working agreements with four local education authorities (UGEL), within which the eight schools fall, to promote positive education strategies for vulnerable children. The eight schools are used as an example of good practice for developing effective strategies for the prevention of violence and child labour, with the intention of mainstreaming such an approach across all the other schools for which the UGELs are responsible.
Challenges and opportunities
While the project has had a notable impact – reaching over 9000 children and young people and improving the implementation or child protection measures in schools and across UGELs – there have been challenges. Parents’ participation has improved overall, but there is a notable drop in parental engagement for secondary school children, as well as discrepancy between the numbers of mothers and fathers involved. This is due in large part to prevailing attitudes amongst parents; they feel that their secondary-age children no longer require as much attention and support. As a result, many children are left to make their own way to and from school, which has led to cases of involvement in drugs and even teenage pregnancies. CESIP is working closely with each school to encourage parents to assume greater responsibility in their role as caregivers – making them aware of the risk that their children could become street-connected.
Secondly, although four UGEL have signed agreements for collaborative working with CESIP, it has been difficult working within a context of general elections and the frequent rotation of ministry staff, which has required building new relationships with new government personnel. However, two UGEL have expressed an interest in promoting strategies for the prevention of violence and raising awareness about child labour. In addition, the Peruvian Ministry of Education extended its national educational support programme in 2017 to cover the eight schools involved in this project. This provided an opportunity to extend the focus on the psycho-pedagogic support and social skills workshops for another two years.
Himali is the Senior Partnerships and Programmes Officer at ChildHope.