Domestic service by children often interferes with their education, in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.56 Many domestic workers drop out. Others are able to attend night classes, but traveling to and from school at night carries increased risks to their safety. Even those who are able to go to school during the day or night report that their work sometimes interferes with their schooling when they do not have time to do their homework, fall asleep during class, or miss days of school.
Salvadoran law guarantees children a basic education, grades one through nine, free of charge.57 But many schools charge matriculation fees or “voluntary” monthly assessments. Most also require students to wear uniforms. School supplies such as notebooks and pencils and the cost of transport to and from classes are additional expenses. As a result, the average yearly cost of schooling is nearly $300 per student, a considerable sum for most Salvadoran families. “A lot of times it’s the difference between eating and not eating,” said Benjamin Smith, the ILO’s principal technical advisor in El Salvador. “It’s a big sacrifice to send a child to school.”58
Education is often presented as a solution to child labor. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs suggests that “schooling almost always leads to better outcomes, both socially and economically, than working for children.”59 International instruments adopt this view. The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention highlights “the importance of education in eliminating child labour” and calls on states to ensure access to free basic education for all children removed from the worst forms of child labor.60 In fact, international law linked education and child labor long before the adoption of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, observes Katarina Tomasevski, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to education: The linkage “constitutes one of the oldest parts of international human rights law and emerged therein because of its sound economic rationale.”61
More fundamentally, children have the internationally recognized right to primary education that is “available free to all.”62 As a first step toward securing the right to an education, El Salvador should ensure that child labor does not interfere with schooling. It should also eliminate school fees and similar state-imposed barriers to education, and it should identify and implement strategies to reduce other costs associated with attending school.
Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right “to be protected from . . . performing any work that is likely . . . to interfere with the child's education.”63 But domestic work and other forms of labor often impede a child’s access to this right. Many of the girls we interviewed told us that they had missed school in order to work.64 Even those who work primarily during the school vacations may miss the first several days of classes. A social studies teacher told Human Rights Watch, “For example, there was a thirteen-year-old girl in the sixth grade who was working in San Salvador all vacation. She went in December and just came back last week. But school began January 15, and she just came home last week, about February 3.”65
The larger cities, including San Salvador and Santa Ana, offer night school for children who work during the day. Night schools offer an important opportunity for children who would not otherwise be able to continue their education, but traveling to and from school at night may carry increased risks, especially for girls. At one of the houses where Alma S. worked, her employers would only permit her to attend school at night. “It was dangerous,” she said, because the school was far from where she worked. She left that job after twenty-two days. She was able to go to school during the day until she found a job in another house. “I had to look after the children. I was going to school in the mornings, but then I couldn’t go. . . . So I came back here [to night school]. I explained to my mother that the lady wanted me to study at night.” She left the house after an elderly woman was attacked on the street near the house where she worked. “San Salvador is dangerous,” she repeated.66
And those who are able to attend school may find that they lack the time or energy to do their homework. A former domestic worker, now an adult, told Human Rights Watch:
Others spoke of falling asleep during classes. Whether or not they are able to do their homework, it can be difficult for an adolescent to balance work and school. The former domestic worker described what it was like for her:
The cost of education pushes some children into work. For example, Mónica F. told us, “I use the money [from domestic work] to buy books, to pay the matriculation fee. I also use the money to buy school supplies.”69 The social studies teacher has seen similar cases. “Some kids say to me, ‘Look, I am not going to come to school for a couple of days to earn the money for my sports uniform.’ There are girls who go to clean in houses,” the teacher told us. “They work to earn money for school.”70
State schools must by law provide basic education, first through ninth grade, free of charge.71 Nevertheless, many schools charge matriculation fees or “voluntary” monthly assessments. “Most schools are free in theory, but school fees can be prohibitive,” said Karla Hananía de Varela, a UNICEF program officer.72 “The fees are ¢200 to ¢400 [$22.85 to $45.71] yearly, plus monthly fees in some places,” said Luís Salazar, the associate ombudsman for children and adolescents’ issues. “Then they have to buy school materials, plus a little bit for what they call ‘healthy education’ [educación saludable], meaning that they receive a meal at school.”73 We heard amounts that ranged from nothing to approximately $12 per year, with higher fees in San Salvador than elsewhere in the country:
Fees are higher for secondary education. For example, Mónica F., a seventeen-year-old in her first year of high school, told us that she pays a matriculation fee of ¢225 ($25.71) plus a monthly fee of ¢150 ($17.14).81
Most schools also require students to wear uniforms. “My uniform costs ¢170 [$19.43],” said Dalia R. “I work for [the money to pay for] it on vacation, and my mother saves the money to pay for my uniform and school supplies.”82
The Ministry of Education has taken some steps to address the barriers created both by school fees and uniforms. “The minister issued a guideline saying that there should not be a matriculation fee and that no student should be turned away for not having a uniform. That’s an achievement,” said Luís Salazar of the ombudsman’s office.83
“The law says that uniforms should not be an impediment,” said Yolanda Barrientos of the Olof Palme Foundation. But in practice, she reported, students are often turned away from school if they do not have uniforms.84 We heard similar reports elsewhere. “The uniform is required but the Ministry of Education gave the order after the earthquake that schools should be flexible,” Dora Gutiérrez, of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), told us. “They have to have a sky blue shirt and black shoes. After the earthquake the minister gave the order that they not be demanded but it continues to be a requirement. It’s part of the cost.”85
While Human Rights Watch heard of some cases in which students were turned away from school for not wearing uniforms, youths in other schools told us that they were permitted to attend class even if they did not have a uniform. “We can come without uniforms when our mother hasn’t bought them yet,” Jenifer S. reported. “When my little brother first went to kindergarten, he didn’t have his uniform yet.”86
The most common justification we heard for requiring students to wear uniforms was that they reduce the level of gang violence. “It’s very sensitive issue because of violence and the need for discipline,” said Ms. Barrientos. She continued:
The UNICEF program officer noted, however, that such violence is mainly a secondary school phenomenon. “For small children, they could do away with the uniforms,” said Karla Hananía de Varela.88
Even when they do not have to pay school fees or purchase uniforms, families must buy notebooks, pencils, and other materials. “The school supplies cost about ¢300 [$34.29]. I have to buy books, but I haven’t yet because I need to wait until my mother has the money. My mother earns very little. We use the money for daily things,” said Dalia R.89
In many cases students must also pay for public transport to and from school. Dalia R. told us she spends ¢5 ($0.57) each day to get to and from school on a minibus.90 Those who can’t afford the bus must walk distances that may be considerable. “It takes me about thirty minutes to an hour walking to get to school,” fourteen-year-old Ana C. told us.91
The IPEC study estimated that the annual cost of schooling was ¢2,405 ($274.86) per student.92 Of the fifteen- to seventeen-year-old girls surveyed for the IPEC study, 59 percent had completed between four and six years of primary school. Forty-seven percent of fifteen- to seventeen-year-old girls and 18.2 percent of girls twelve to fourteen did not attend school at all. Nearly 28 percent of those surveyed cited the cost of schooling as the reason they did not attend, making it the second most frequent reason for nonattendance. The study found that girls in urban areas are more than twice as likely as those in rural areas not to attend school (46.4 percent of urban girls as compared with 20.0 percent of rural girls interviewed).93
The jobs children turn to in order to pay for their schooling are not limited to domestic work. “I work all of November and December to be able to come here [to school],” said fourteen-year-old Dalia R., who works in a cafeteria during those months. “We pay $12 for matriculation for the two of us. I work every day during vacations, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. I rest only when there aren’t people in the cafeteria.”94
56 Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 32(1).
57 Ley General de Educación, art. 20. The school year starts in mid-January or early February; classes are in session for 200 days per year. Students attend for five hours each day, usually in either the morning or the afternoon. See ibid., art. 107; Reglamento de Educación Primaria, Decreto No. 40 of February 22, 1965, art. 129, Diario Oficial No. 40, vol. 206, February 26, 1965 (as amended by Decreto No. 39 of December 19, 1967, Diario Oficial No. 235, vol. 217, December 21, 1967).
58 Human Rights Watch interview with Benjamin Smith, February 6, 2003.
59 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, By the Sweat and Toil of Children, Volume VI: An Economic Consideration of Child Labor (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, 2000), p. i.
60 Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, art. 7(2)(c).
61 Katarina Tomasevski, Education Denied: Costs and Remedies (London and New York: Zed Books, 2003), p. 24. Tomasevski explains:
Ibid. (citing Resolution concerning the protection of children and young workers of 1945, in “Child Labour in Relation to Compulsory Education,” Studies on Compulsory Education, No. 5 (Geneva and Paris: ILO and UNESCO, 1952), section III.A.9(2)).
62 Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 28(1)(a).
63 Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 32(1).
64 Human Rights Watch interviews, San Salvador, February 13, 2003; San Salvador, February 17, 2003; San Salvador, February 18, 2003.
65 Human Rights Watch interview with teacher, Department of San Miguel, February 12, 2003.
66 Human Rights Watch interview with Alma S., Department of San Salvador, February 13, 2002.
67 Human Rights Watch interview with adult woman, San Salvador, February 17, 2003.
68 Human Rights Watch interview with adult woman, San Salvador, February 17, 2003.
69 Human Rights Watch interview with Mónica F., San Salvador, February 18, 2003.
70 Human Rights Watch interview with teacher, Department of San Miguel, February 12, 2003.
71 Ley General de Educación, art. 20.
72 Human Rights Watch interview with Karla Hananía de Varela, program officer, UNICEF, San Salvador, February 19, 2003.
73 Human Rights Watch interview with Luís Enrique Salazar Flores, February 10, 2003.
74 Human Rights Watch interview with Sandra B., San Salvador, February 20, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Dalia R., San Salvador, February 18, 2003. El Salvador began to phase out the colón in favor of the the U.S. dollar in 2001, making it the third country in Latin America to dollarize. (The others are Panamá, in 1903, and Ecuador, in 2000. Additionally, Guatemala has used both the U.S. dollar and the quetzal as legal tender since 2001, although there is no fixed exchange rate between the two currencies.) Although colón notes and coins are gradually disappearing from circulation, children and adults interviewed by Human Rights Watch usually referred to wages and prices in colones. Sometimes, as in this statement by Dalia R., they quoted prices in dollars.
76 Human Rights Watch interview with Ana C., San Salvador, February 18, 2003.
77 Human Rights Watch interview with Nora L., Department of San Miguel, February 12, 2003.
78 Human Rights Watch interview with Flor N., San Salvador, February 17, 2003.
79 Human Rights Watch interview with Jenifer S,, San Salvador, February 18, 2003.
80 Human Rights Watch interview with Alma S., Department of San Salvador, February 13, 2003.
81 Human Rights Watch interview with Mónica F., San Salvador, February 18, 2003.
82 Human Rights Watch interview with Dalia R., San Salvador, February 18, 2003.
83 Human Rights Watch interview with Luís Enrique Salazar Flores, February 10, 2003.
84 Human Rights Watch interview with Yolanda Barrientos, Fundación Olof Palme, San Salvador, February 20, 2003.
85 Human Rights Watch interview with Dorita E. de Gutiérrez, Education and Training Team, Office of Economic Growth and Education, U.S. Agency for International Development, San Salvador, February 10, 2003.
86 Human Rights Watch interview with Jenifer S., San Salvador, February 18, 2003.
87 Human Rights Watch interview with Yolanda Barrientos, February 20, 2003.
88 Human Rights Watch interview with Karla Hananía de Varela, February 19, 2003.
89 Human Rights Watch interview with Dalia R., San Salvador, February 18, 2003.
90 Human Rights Watch interview with Dalia R., San Salvador, February 18, 2003.
91 Human Rights Watch interview with Ana C., San Salvador, February 18, 2003.
92 Godoy, Trabajo infantil doméstico, p. 23.
93 Ibid., pp. 21-23. Conflicts between work hours and school hours was the most common reason for nonattendance (43.4 percent).
94 Human Rights Watch interview with Dalia R., San Salvador, February 18, 2003.