She squeezes her tiny body through a forest of legs and hips, forcing her way down the aisle of the crowded bus. Her child-bright eyes dart from one impassive face to the next as she chirps the name and price of her brightly-colored wares. She is a familiar face on this route, and her regular customers dig for the 5 or 10 cents to buy the coconutty-fried candy that she’s selling. Today is an average day and she collects a handful of coins for her efforts. A dozen stops and 45 minutes later the bus rolls herky-jerky into another noisy depot. She scoops the change out of her apron, delicately counts out 35 cents for the bus driver, and steps down into the dusty lot. She waits here for an indeterminate time while workers, mothers, students and travelers slowly percolate into the returning bus. An hour and a half later she is back in her neighborhood, richer by a dollar or fifty cents or twenty-five. She runs a kilometer down the rutted path to her tiny, tin-sided home where she delivers the day’s wages to her expectant mother.
In the morning she awakens to the smell of frying oil. Yesterday’s treats were pink and yellow, so today she knows they will be yellow and blue. She gathers up the ingredients and helps her mother prepare and cook the day’s inventory. Then she washes up with a cloth and warm water, pulls her smooth black hair into a ponytail and ties it with a white ribbon, dons her uniform and walks to school. Her name is Katia and she is in the second grade.
Katia’s story is common throughout rural Nicaragua. It is the harsh economic reality for children in a country where 3/4 of the population lacks the economic security of a regular paying job, and more than 50% live on less than $2 per day. The high costs associated with child labor – absenteeism, low academic rigor, and high drop-out rates among other things – rob children like Katia of hope for a brighter future.
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