Should Children in Brazil and Chile Start Working Earlier?

I attended the Santiago Pub Crawl in the bohemian tourist section of Baquedano and met an 18 year old Brazilian woman whose mother sent her to an English school when she was 11. It amazes me that Brazilians often learn to speak English before Spanish! By the time she was 16, she had become fluent and snagged a volunteer job teaching English for a year, but it worked out poorly.

She enjoyed working and accomplished her goal of proving that she is a skilled English teacher, but working is a crime in Brazil when younger than 18; she was forced to wait a year before finding a job that is paying her well now. She still lives with her mother, but is becoming independent, paid for her vacation in Chile, and travelled with a 26 year old lawyer who is not a relative.

I delivered newspapers from ages 8-15, enjoying the dignity and status of working before it was criminalized, and reveled in the power of learning how to manage a business. I quit because 15 years is too old for menial labor and can’t imagine what it’s like today for an adult to be a paperboy.

I met an English teacher from the United States who enjoys his intermediate students and is bored teaching beginners; teenagers ought to be able to teach beginners and use their earnings to further their education. I witnessed a charming tradition 20 years ago in Sydney, Australia of 12 year olds playing musical instruments on the streets, so unafraid of crime that their parents left them to play alone, using the tips they earned to pay tuition for summer music lessons. Unfortunately, Australia has become a nanny state, one that tries to protect you from what the state believes is your own stupidity, so today it’s a crime before age 18. Child busking remains legal in Argentina, but I haven’t seen children alone in Santiago, although a boy and girl play percussion in their parents’ band.

Chile imposes fewer restrictions on working than most countries, but children and young adults are oppressed, as in many other richer countries. Chileans are terrified of competition from foreigners. The grocery baggers are 16-18 years old, even though 10-12 year old Mexicans work as well as older Chileans. On the bright side, it’s not as comical as the extended childhood of the 3 baggers I saw at the King Soopers last summer in Fort Collins, Colorado, each of whom is about 25 years old and 6’4″ tall.

I wouldn’t want to play basketball against a King Soopers team!

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