by Carina Lupica

In Argentina, more than 900,000 women aged 14 to 24 are mothers, meaning that 24.2% of young women have children [link in Spanish]; however, not all of these young mothers are able to take care of their children. That task falls to different people in varied settings within the family or outside the home, where the government, private businesses and nonprofit organizations operate. But who is really looking after these children?

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The main burden of responsibility for caring for young children rests with families, and more specifically, with the women in those families. Mothers provide 60% of the total time devoted to the care of children and adolescents in the home, and the situation is even worse among younger women, who are less likely to have support with child care tasks [link in Spanish].

Although women’s increased participation in the labor market has prompted more families to decide to turn over child care duties to another person or institution for a few hours per day, just 32% of Argentine children aged 0-4  attend educational or child development programs.

What are the reasons and consequences?

In contexts in which the supply of public child care services is insufficient, child care depends on families’ capabilities and resources, and it determines child development opportunities and parents’ job prospects. A young mother with small children and no access to a nursery school or kindergarten program faces obvious challenges when it comes to completing her formal studies and entering the labor market.

For young men, fatherhood accelerates the trend of early entry into the workforce (95.9% of the male population aged 14 to 24 years old that lives with children works), which also affects their ability to continue their education.

Two recent developments in Argentina

The incorporation of a child care component into the Support Program for Argentine Students (Prog.r.es.ar.) in order to encourage young people aged 18 to 24 who are unemployed, informally employed, or earning below the minimum wage to complete their education represents a step forward in the understanding of child care as a social responsibility. The Ministry of Social Development was charged with guaranteeing access to free, high-quality public child care services for program beneficiaries’ children.

In addition, the announcement made by the national government in September 2014 to extend compulsory school attendance to children 4 years of age will have implications for families’ use of time [link in Spanish].

How can we make even more progress?

We must acknowledge that child care provides an important value to society and recognize it as a universal right, both for children and for those who provide the service. When child care is established as a right, both society and the government will be obliged to provide the guarantees and mechanisms to ensure the decent and appropriate provision of care.

For that reason, it is recommended that child care be incorporated as a component of the social protection system [link in Spanish].

This involves coordinating the social and fiscal pact in order to reorganize the social distribution of child care between the government, the market and society, giving rise to a more equal sharing of domestic and family responsibilities between men and women in the home and promoting quality public child care services.

The expansion and creation of child care services represent an important opportunity to formalize existing jobs and to create new employment, which could be of particular benefit to young workers. This would allow for:

  1. the role of workers in this sector to be revalued.
  2. the promotion of decent work conditions.
  3. the work of the caregiver to be given professional status and for workers to be paid a decent wage.
  4. improvement in the quality of child development services.

Guaranteeing child care through shared social responsibility promotes early childhood development under conditions of equality, while contributing to the social inclusion of young parents in the educational sphere and in the labor market. Both are prerequisites for sustainable development and social welfare.

What is the state of child care in your community? Tell us in the comments section below, and share this article to initiate a dialogue with others.

Carina Lupica is a consultant for the International Labor Organization and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and she is the Executive Director of Fundación Observatorio de la Maternidad.

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