The Children of Nicaragua

Smiles and Suffering


by Christoph Grandt, Managua

(published in the newspaper Central America Weekly)


A trip through Nicaragua is a trip followed by thousands of children's smiles. However, many of them currently live in conditions that are utterly unacceptable. They are being maltreated or abused within their own families (beating children is unfortunately a widespread habit in this country), or they have to work hard since tender age in order to earn their living. For UNICEF, the greatest advance in Nicaragua has been the implementation of the Code of Childhood and Adolescence in November 1998, finally determining dignity, protection, and rights of children and adolescents. This being an important step forward, much is left to be done, as the following pictures show.



sanjudas2shalb.jpg (43163 bytes)

Nicaragua is a country of young people: 53% of the population is less than 18 years old. The average age is 16.1 (UNICEF 1996). More than half of the families have between 5 and 7 members, and nearly one third between 8 to 11.



prometi5shalb.jpg (37763 bytes)

Many who have lost their homes during "Hurricane Mitch" are still living in hot and dusty "Tierra Prometida" ("Promised Land"), some 30 kilometers east of Managua in miserable conditions. And this is not an exception: Only 62% of Nicaragua's children has access to drinking water and only 35% to decent sanitary installations (UNICEF 1997).



managua1halb.jpg (28351 bytes)

»Studies come first, Work comes later« says a government slogan disseminated through  television. However, the net percentage of children attending primary school is only 73% (UNESCO 1998), which is a consequence of the widespread child work that  prevents children from completing primary school.



maleconshalb.jpg (42813 bytes)

10 Córdobas (US$0.85) profit for each cassette is a lot, but convincing potential clients is hard work. Recently she has given up the cassette business and is now selling cheap plastic toys and balloons, as hundreds of children do at the "Malecón", at the shores of Lake Managua.



malecon4halb.jpg (30017 bytes)

»Children have the right to dignity as human beings« tells us the Code of Childhood. However, this boy will continue washing cars with his dirty cloth, and eating leftovers from people who can spend 30 Córdobas (US$2.5) for a roasted chicken.



TaniaMonchoHalb.jpg (35916 bytes)

An adolescent girl playing with her little brother? No. She's a young mother with her four-year-old son. A touching and very common picture in Nicaraguan society: 21% of all newborn children have adolescents as their mothers (Proyecto Dos Generaciones 1996), partly due to near inexistant sexual education.



colegiohalb.jpg (26405 bytes)

Those who have the advantage to be enrolled in a private school are the lucky ones. It is them who will determine the future of Nicaragua. On the other hand, only  31% of the young Nicaraguans terminate fifth grade (UNICEF 1998), and illiteracy with adults is no less than 24% (UNICEF 1995).



pistahalb.jpg (29237 bytes)

Girls like her already have to take existential responsibilities. The mother has died, and it is the child who decides to invert her meager savings into a small business selling water on the streets of Managua.



radioyahalb.jpg (31703 bytes)

They have to spend 5 Córdobas for a tin of glue. They live on the streets of Managua together with some 15.000 children between 7 y 14 years of age. Ten times higher is the number of those who, although having a place to live, are living depending on survival strategies (UNICEF 1991).



From her 16th birthday onwards she will be a Nicaraguan citizen having ample political rights. However, in her house there is not even a desk where to put her birthday cake. And where to do school homework under these conditions? Many years ago she dropped out of school; since that time her only capital is her beauty - an ephemeral advantage.


Christoph Grandt, May 1999