Education | World

Indigenous youth in Paraguay forced into labor in wealthy homes

Children at a Toba village in Paraguay. Photo by Jonathan Killen

Thousands of indigenous children in Paraguay are falling victim to a centuries-old system of forced labor, The Washington Post reports.

In the "criadazgo" system, the children are placed in the homes of wealthy residents and are to be provided with education, food and other basic necessities. In return, the "criados" are expected to perform domestic work.

But indigenous activists and their advocates say the children are essentially forced into slavery and some end up being abused, or worse. Many don't see any education benefits at all.

"About 45% of children or teens said they worked every day, and 26% of them said they had less than two hours a day to rest," Ella.Com.Py reported, citing studies on the issue. "Many children reported being abused by their employers, including being insulted (33%), having to eat leftovers (20%), being beaten or kicked (12%) or sexually abused (5%)."

Calls to end the practice are growing following the beating death of a 14-year-old girl in January, The Post reported. But some politicians are defending the system, the paper said.

A similar system existed at Indian boarding schools in the United States, where some girls and boys were sent to local homes to perform domestic, farm and other chores. At Haskell Indian Industrial School, some students even completed work for commercial projects, according to a study by the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe.

"The 'production work' that children were performing helped operate the school, but was not necessarily an educational tool. The 'Outing Program' for hiring out boys and girls as maids and servants in homes and farms to do cooking, cleaning, serving, and childcare provided little in the way of a real education or training," the report, American Indian Boarding Schools: An Exploration of Global, Ethnic & Cultural Cleansing, stated.

Get the Story:
Rich Paraguayans can ‘adopt’ children as domestic help. But that might change. (The Washington Post 6/12)