We’ve talked a lot about the impact poverty has on women and girls. How girls are missing from the classroom, the danger cultural practices pose on health, and the fact there are more women living in poverty than men. And while these conversations are encouraging and long overdue, are we left asking, ‘what about the boys?’
With this in mind we tackle three misconceptions about boys living in poverty by exploring some of the pressures and dangers Compassion-supported boys in Mexico and Thailand face.
1. Only girls face challenges with cultural pressures
In Mexico, tradition and culture can place a heavy burden on boys. Expected to be physically and mentally strong, from a young age they are taught not to show emotion or weakness. Families will often remind their sons, ‘boys don’t cry,’ teaching them to reject behaviours that are considered weak. These deep rooted attitudes not only put boys under pressure to behave in a certain way, it also leads to a negative view of women as the weaker sex.
As a boy reaches his teenage years there is also a growing expectation that he will provide financially for his family. Where poverty and unemployment is high, men and boys can feel increasingly frustrated and disempowered if they can’t meet these expectations. This frustration may lead to violence in order to regain a sense of power or control.
Through the Compassion programme and the love invested by staff, children are taught how to form healthy relationships built on respect and valuing each other. As 10-year-old Mario says, “What I like the most about the programme is coming and learning about God. I know I do not have to say bad words or behave wrong. I know I should not hit others and that I should obey my parents and my teachers.”
As part of their lessons, boys are also equipped with the tools they need to challenge unhelpful stereotypes within their own families and communities. While this will take time, the project staff know this will bring transformation and lasting change within Mexican society.
2) Girls are the only ones vulnerable to issues such as sex trafficking
For boys growing up in the slums of Kampang Nagam, Thailand, life is incredibly risky. Parents work long hours at the night markets, leaving their children to fend for themselves. With nothing to do to while away the hours, boys are lured by game arcades. Unattended and unsupervised, boys as young as six become easy targets for sex trade recruiters who take advantage of their vulnerability. Lured with false promises of high earnings, once a boy becomes entrapped in the sex trade, it is very hard to get them out.
In 2013, the church in the area, Chiang Mai Acts of Grace Church, saw the problem and were determined to respond. They began by setting up a football programme to give local boys from the slums an alternative to the arcades.
Shortly after, they partnered with Compassion and were able to reach out to even more vulnerable children through the programme. For boys like Peersak, they now have a safe place to come and are no longer easy targets for the sex trade recruiters. In the comfort of the church they can learn and play without fear, surrounded by loving Compassion staff, who care for them and know them by name.
As well as playing football, children learn to build good friendships, how to stay healthy and they also hear about the love of Jesus. The impact is clear, as project director, Mr Wanchai says: “Now, because they’re tired from the football practice, they sleep! The children stay home and are well rested for school the next morning.”
3) A boy’s education will be prioritised over girls
While a boy’s education is often a priority for families, this doesn’t mean a boy will always complete his education. In Mexico, pressure to provide for the family can disrupt education. From an early age, boys will be given errands to run or sent to help their fathers with their economic activities.
One of the major issues that church-based Compassion projects in Mexico face is the number of boys under 18 who work to support their families. The work these boys do is normally in the fields, growing corn, cutting sugar cane, picking up coffee, cleaning the field, cutting, carrying or selling wood, or taking care of the cattle. Doing this type of manual work at such a young age has implications for a child’s health and well-being, as well as the impact it has on their schooling and opportunities for play and free time.
Thanks to parenting classes run through the Compassion project, parents and caregivers are taught about the benefits of education, how important it is for their children to stay in school and the risks and dangers of child labour.
Children equipped to thrive
Whether you sponsor a boy or a girl, thanks to you, your sponsored child attends a project where they are known, loved and valued. Whatever pressures or situations they face, by truly knowing each and every Compassion-supported child, project staff are able to meet and address their individual needs. This means your sponsored child should never be afraid to have big dreams.