Not only do some Peruvian women literally carry their business on their back, they also combine it with their other duties – such as childcare. Unfortunately, the ability to send their kids to kindergarten or day-care is not possible for the majority of the population; therefore, the only way to take care of their own children is to have them by their side. This leads to the kids staying on the street the whole day, playing with the products their mother is selling, or just having a nap in the mantas on their mother’s back. Often times, you will find them hidden somewhere among the products displayed on the street.
Sometimes, when the children reach a certain age, they easily fill their mother’s position in case she has to leave her workplace for awhile. They learn quickly how to count and sell, sometimes they are able to persuade the shoppers to make a purchase even better than their mothers. This is particularly true with tourists who can’t resist feeling pity for the children having to work so hard, especially when that kind of child labor is forbidden in their own countries.
When seeing children in these conditions you might ask yourself whether it’s against the children’s rights to limit them and take their best years away from them. However, Peruvian law is specific in regards to child labor. For example, the Peruvian legal code allows children to work at the age of 12-14 at a rate of 4 hours daily and at the age of 15-17 at a rate of 6 hours daily, requiring the consent of parents. Unfortunately, the enforcement of these laws is anything but stellar, so the real amount of labor hours and the age these children start working is not controlled by anyone. In the cases of any accidents there is no real guaranteed protection or help.
You can’t help but be impressed by the tenacity of these strong women who manage everything while living and working in very basic, meager conditions. Though at the same time, you also must wonder – where are the strong men and husbands? What are they doing while these women are taking care of so much? You would be hard-pressed to see even one dad carrying a manta with a baby while visiting Peru. Who knows if whether it is because of machismo or fundamental trust issues, tradition or unfamiliar circumstances, no matter the reason, it just doesn’t really make sense. Yet the women don’t seem bothered or weakened by their situation and they somehow continue make more and more babies. It must be the sense of family that gives them the strength and power to overcome their daily difficulties.
In the picture below you can see a woman selling Peruvian lemon. On her back you can see a colorful material called manta (you can read more about manta here and here). It might not look that strange, but inside it there is a baby, sleeping soundly. The baby may be comfortable, but for the mother it’s hard to believe that she is feeling the same way. Generally, carrying children in mantas is much more convenient than carrying them in their arms, but imagine that you are at work all day doing your duties and in addition to that you have to wear your child on your back the whole time. It makes me wonder how long the backs of these mothers will last if they keep up with this state of affairs. It is one thing is to use the manta for a short period of time and another thing to use it every day for several hours at a time.
In the photo below another woman, another story, but with one common issue: her child is on her back at work.
These are not unique cases. Among the Andean population it is fairly common.
Of course, as I pointed out in the introduction, this entry is a kind of the norm. However, it is still a norm I find so bewildering that I decided to write my opinion on the matter. It still remains difficult for me to accept this aspect of Peruvian culture and life. However, I hope that there will come a time that the babies will have better things to do than spend whole days with their parents at work! If you decide travel to Peru and walk around in the streets of Cusco for example, you will see what I am talking about quite frequently.
In the photo below, a mother with a toddler selling CDs. As you can see the girl in hat is no longer just a baby, so you can imagine what it’s like to stand up all day with this kind of weight on your back.
But there is also something that surprises me in a positive way. All the women who go to their jobs with their children, who carry their babies for many hours each day, do not complain. They are not sad or angry. To me, they are extremely strong women!