Latin America is most urbanised of all the developing regions (Skinner and Steinberg, 2003). Urban poverty is different from that in rural areas, and as such has brought new challenges to international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Plan International who have traditionally focused on rural settings.
This paper will assess Plan’s Anti-Child Labour Program which is part of Plan’s wider Integrated Urban Program. These programs have been written in order that they might be applied in many different cities and counties. Therefore this paper will be illustrated from the author’s experience in regards to Plan’s Anti-Child Labour Program in Quito, Ecuador. Plan’s strategy for urban poverty reduction relies upon local partnerships (Skinner and Steinberg, 2003) and thus the manifestation of their Anti-Child Labour Program in Ecuador is through an independent Ecuadorian NGO located in the south of Quito called the Centre for the Working Girl (CENIT). I worked at CENIT for the duration of June to September in 2004 and thus many of the details in this section will be based on personal knowledge of the program or from unpublished documents received while volunteering at the centre.
The aim of this paper will be to critically evaluate Plan’s Anti-Child Labour Program. It will first evaluate Plan’s approach to urban poverty in context of child poverty; the importance of its definition and its place within a societal context. The next section will then focus more specifically upon the relationship between child labour and child poverty and the ways in which this mould’s Plan’s approach and implicit address of poverty. The final section will focus upon the implicit logic through which Plan’s Program’s identify the children they would like to target and discuss what may be understood in regards to Plan’s address of poverty. Although the sections are titled to indicate different sections are answering different elements of the essay question please note that there is some overlap.
2.0 Plan’s Definition and Approach to Poverty
Children make up a large percentage of the world’s population and numbers are particularly high in developing countries. In fact, estimates suggest that up to one half of all people in many developing countries are under 15 (Leavy et al, 2002). This means that child welfare is an important factor in the overall welfare of a country. This, combined with other more emotive factors, such as belief in a child’s innocence and vulnerability, leads non-governmental organisations such as Plan to target children with their urban poverty programs. This leads Plan to define and approach poverty in the context of children and the specific experiences of poverty that children may have. However, Plan’s approach to poverty also embraces the idea that children’s problems are closely related to those experienced their parents and community (Skinner and Steinberg, 2003). In this way Plan approaches poverty from a more sociological standpoint that acknowledges that no one sector of a community operates alone.
Implicit in the approach of any children’s NGO, or indeed in any NGO that targets a specific section of a population, is that the targeted beneficiaries require special attention. Plan acknowledges the importance of childhood poverty and the fact that poverty experienced in childhood1 and youth differs from poverty experienced in adulthood (Plan International, 2004, Gordon et al, 2003a). This is mainly in relation to the extent to which current wellbeing is critical in determining future wellbeing, given that the former affects their physiological, mental and social welfare in a manner that determines the latter (Leavy et al, 2002). The logic implicit in this argument is that poverty in childhood is likely to lead to poverty in adulthood, thus in order to reach the goal of long term poverty elimination childhood poverty needs be addressed. This is reflected in Plan’s approach to urban poverty. They believe in enabling children to break this ‘cycle’ of poverty, thus taking both a preventative and curative approach to urban poverty (Plan International, 2004).
3.0 Plan’s Anti-Child Labour Program; Approach and Implicit Address of Poverty
Program documents claim that “Plan works for long lasting change by addressing the underlying poverty and discrimination that forces many children into hazardous labour” (Plan International, 2004, p.12). Child labour is identified as a problem that affects children in both rural and urban areas, with the main differences being in the type of work expected of children. However, in an urban context anti-child labour programs need to deal with further complicating factors street children, child prostitution, begging and street crime which are not so prevalent in rural areas (Skinner and Steinberg, 2003). Although Plan does not explicitly acknowledge the two way causal link between child labour and poverty, it is implicit in its approach. In program documents Plan says that it’s strategy coincides with the work of other agencies such as UNICEF and Save the Children. UNICEF says;
If poverty, as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen argues, is to be defined not merely in terms of low income but as a state of deprivation of basic capabilities, nothing illustrates that more forcefully than child labour. A result and also a cause of poverty, child labour is a prison that withers both capabilities and potential (2001, p.3).
In this way child labour has been defined as both a cause and a consequence of poverty and thus Plan’s Anti-Child Labour Program is an urban poverty program and will be discussed within this context.
The program acknowledges that poverty is a gendered issue and approaches it as such. Plan notes that boys and girls are equally likely to be working between ages 5 to 14 years, yet as children get older there is a widening gap; more boys work than girls. However, they believe working girls to be particularly vulnerable in light of their low status in society and the gendered nature of tasks2 assigned to them (2004). This is reflected ‘on the ground’ by Plan’s partner and implementing NGO, CENIT. CENIT only accepts boys onto its programs if they have a sister already involved at the centre. In this way CENIT takes a pragmatic approach to the gendered discrimination against the educating of girls that is the reality in Ecuador.
CENIT notes that “In addition to their street work…girls have an additional six hours of work at home caring for their younger siblings and doing housework. Girls are also more vulnerable than their male siblings in terms of sexual abuse, incest, teenage pregnancy, physical abuse, a higher probability of being forced to work, discrimination at school and in the work place, and extremely low self-esteem” (CENIT, 2005). In this way, through a campaign of positive discrimination, CENIT approaches poverty in a way that tries to help redress the balance between opportunities available for boys and girls in its area and their capabilities to make the most of those opportunities.
There are many different ways that poverty may be defined. The most commonly used approach is the Monetary Approach closely followed by, for example, the Capabilities Approach, Social Exclusion Approach, Participatory Approach3 and the Human Rights Approach. These approaches vary in their ideologies and methodologies, and most importantly, are not mutually exclusive. There are many overlapping elements of each definition and as such I could argue that all these approaches are evident in Plan’s approach and implicit in their address of urban poverty. However, I do not feel this would be a useful exercise, therefore I have chosen to focus, as do Plan, upon the Human Rights Approach to poverty. The next section of this paper will outline this approach, identify it as Plan’s main definition of poverty, and later in section 3 will discuss how far Plan uses this framework in its implicit approach to addressing child poverty.
In the documents I had access to Plan do not explicitly define poverty. However they do state:
Plan’s child labour programs follow preventive and curative approaches… [They adopt] a rights-based approach in which children, families and communities are active and leading participants in their own development. It enhances their capacity and opportunity to work together and with other stakeholders to address the structural causes and consequences of child poverty at all levels (Plan International, 2004).
This statement therefore clearly indicates that Plan’s approach to urban poverty is located within a rights-based definition. This is evident throughout their literature.
In 1989 the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was ratified by more nations than has been any other charter or convention, thus meaning it was accepted by governments across the world. This took place forty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (HDHR) and moved beyond the original charter to recognise children’s rights to include a political and moral dimension (namely the child’s right to shape decisions that affect them) as well as the physical needs dimension outlined in the 1959 HDHR (Franklin, 1995). The CRC clearly outlines the child’s rights to survive, develop, participate and be protected4, yet the problem many scholars identify is that of how to translate these rights ideals into practise within a poverty context (Gordon et al, 2003a). Chinkin tries to clearly define the relationship between rights and poverty.
He states that the “…denial of human rights is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. Poverty constitutes in itself a denial of fundamental human rights and a barrier to the enjoyment of all other human rights. A human rights shortfall is an obstacle to the eradication of poverty” (Quoted in Gordon et al, 2003a, p.8). Yet this still leaves the problem of defining a clear working concept which may be related to practise. Gordon furthers this concept with the suggestion that child poverty may be defined in relation to specified rights to “freedom from material and social deprivation” focusing upon premature death, hunger, malnutrition, and lack of access to clean water, sanitation, education, health care and information as indicators5 (2003a).
Yet he also suggests that child rights may also be defined in regard to rights to “freedom from insufficient resources” with which he means access to an adequate standard of living and the right to social security6 (2003a). This second definition may be seen as an extension to the first and although is closer to defining a working concept remains difficult as it fails to define what may be considered by ‘adequate’ and what indicators and factors may thus be used in the formulation of a poverty program. However as outlined above this is the approach in which Plan places itself, thus the logic follows that it must consider poverty as a lack of child rights to survive, develop, participate and be protected.
4.0 Implicit Messages in the Selection of Poor Locations
The way in which Plan selects areas within which it will focus it’s Urban Poverty programs is illuminative. This is because the ways in which it identifies the poor people with which it is to work indicates ways in which it will implicitly be addressing poverty. This is presented in the form of a table and forms part of Plan’s Integrated Urban Program, under which the Anti-Child Labour Program falls (Plan International, 2004, Skinner and Steinberg, 2003). It is important to note however that the reading of this table must be done in view of Plans acknowledgment that it’s urban poverty programs must be “manageable from the viewpoint of own capacities and of possible partners” (Skinner and Steinberg, 2003, p.13). Therefore I have tried to take care to not infer too much meaning into a slightly pragmatic approach to the selection criteria.
The criteria suggests that Plan focuses on communities with high levels of both economic and social poverty. Yet it rules out communities where people do not have the capacity to contribute their own resources, thus ruling out the very poorest and the most excluded. This may be a pragmatic approach, fuelled by their concern for sustainability, however it does bring to light ways in the address of poverty may leave the poorest behind. Plan also rules out working with illegal communities and those at risk of a natural (or man-made) disaster. This rules out a huge proportion of the poorest and most vulnerable people and again illustrates the limitations with which Plan addresses the issue of urban poverty.
Plan outlines that ‘willingness and commitment of communities [to collaborate in participatory development projects] should be seen as one of the most important criteria for selection’ (Skinner and Steinberg, 2003). This is in line with their rights-based definition which champions the empowerment of the poor and marginalised to claim their rights (Piron, 2003). However, the level to which Plan engages in participatory approaches is debatable. There is no evidence of child participation in the writing of the Anti-Child Labour Program which seems to have been written in consultation rather than with true participation of working children. This was also true during my experience at CENIT. The centre was run for children not by children. It did run courses in civic duty, thus encouraging children to participate in later life. However there were no elements of real child participation in its address of poverty, thus not fully embracing a child-rights approach to poverty.
More importantly, in my opinion, is that in the selection of cities criteria Plan does not specifically mention children only communities. Although it may be argued that children are part of a community and as such poor communities contain poor children this is in opposition to a rights-based approach to child poverty which highlights that this is not always the case (UNICEF, 2001, UNICEF, 2002, Leavy et al 2002). In Plan’s literature they acknowledge that children are a group in their own right and stress the importance of recognising their rights by hearing their voice. If in the selection of locations to be working Plan only targets poor communities they may be missing poor children. This selection implies that children are invisible; the child as part of the community and nothing more. This is a denial of their rights-based mandate they portend to use and thus implicitly addresses poverty as a community centred problem rather than a child centred problem. This is in direct opposition to their literature in which they state;
Children’s problems are largely a result of the problems which their parents and communities face…Plan recognizes this and seeks to work with families and communities in addition to working directly with the children who are at the centre of their mission (My italics, Skinner and Steinberg, 2003).
Plan does not define or address poverty as solely a monetary concept, as is still surprisingly common in many arenas (Laderchi, 2003). Plan embraces a multi-dimensional approach to poverty that acknowledges and addresses poverty as different by gender and age. Plan’s approach also emphasises a child’s right to survival, development, protection and participation. However, implicit within it’s address of poverty seems to be a denial of the rights of children to affect decisions that currently affect them. For example, Plan’s program in Ecuador only manages to empower the children to take hold of their rights at a later age.
Also, implicit in Plan’s strategic approach is often a community centred approach over a child-centred approach. However, this was not the case in Ecuador, where the child remained central to the poverty program. This paper hopes to have highlighted the way in which an organisation has both defined and addressed urban poverty and the disparities between the two. These types of disparities are not uncommon, as the broadening and multi-dimensionality of poverty becomes every more recognised, these disparities will continue to flourish as definitions and approaches will become ever more difficult to translate from paper and into practise.