Children Working at a Coffee Farm

It's complex and sometimes difficult to tell the difference between child labor and a kid in a good situation

In Guatemala, rural children start working as young as 5, helping their parents with whatever their jobs are.

There is plenty of exploitation (from lazy dads who have 8+ kids and then sit back after a few years and do nothing while the kids do the backbreaking work), but not always – many times it’s simply a matter of survival and necessity that the kids earn their keep once they are able to.

While sad, in many cases there is still little alternative – when a family has to make a choice between earning and putting more food on the table, vs spending for school supplies, uniforms, daily transportation…there isn’t much to debate in their minds. The kid goes to work.

But it’s not all tragedy. Take these boys, for example. They’re working in the green coffee (pictured below), which is essentially the berries that were picked too green and thus don’t get used for good coffee, but will be used for other things.

Their afternoon job is to mix the berries around, essentially stirring them to keep them from rotting while they await their use. It’s an easy and not too important job, but someone needs to do it.

The coffee farm they work on is 110 years old and a fixture in the community – basically the people from the entire area work on the farm, and have for generations. It is their lifeblood.

The owners of the farm though have addressed the obvious needs, and built a church and a school on the property. šŸ’’šŸ« The government provides the teachers and the education, but they only do that if a local people build the facility.

Since the plantation owners did just that, kids have an opportunity to go to school without it adding stress or extra expense to the family.

So while these boys are working, in context it was early evening, and school was out – they likely are attending the farm’s school during the morning and early afternoon, and doing a bit of work in the early evening, to further supplement what their parents and older siblings earn.

Is it wrong? In my opinion, not if they’re in school – it’s no different than a western kid doing some paid chores, except they’re getting paid by his parents’ employer, not his parents.

It’s a better life than most in the region, with potential to advance through both developing technical coffee-farm work skills (as opposed to “hauling firewood”) and through provided scholastic education.

Children working at a coffee farm

Rural Guatemalan children doing backbreaking work as young as 5 years old is tragic, but sometimes kids are working to learn and earn, while also going to school and being kids. The situation is complex.

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