The item below was published in the Yorkshire Post on the 4th July.
Last week's news brought yet another harrowing story about the exploitation of child labour. This time it is in the cocoa industry but, as usual, it targets a large company in that industry. What these reports never tell you is that child labour is rampant in all industries and if Nestle ban the use of children in their industry it would not stop those children working, it would only stop them working in the cocoa farms.
Children working in fields
If you followed those children for a few weeks you would likely find them working in some other industry where the pay is less, so the exposure of these abhorrent practices has certainly not helped the children.
I was drawn into this situation in 1986 when the Sunday Times sighted a 12 year old boy, named Putan, as a child labourer on a carpet loom, owned by a company I
Putan (centre bare chest) with loom owner
was involved with. I went to India and found Putan who was the eldest son of a family of six. His father had died, so Putan worked as a carpet weaver to earn money to support the family. Taking Putan away from the carpet loom did not help him as he still had to work - it just deprived him of using his skill as a carpet weaver. He would likely end up in some other industry where the pay would be less and he would have to travel away from his home village to find it.
Since that time I have been deeply involved with the problem of child labour. I established a charity that provides schools for working children. I have also seen child labour in a lot of industries. I have discussed it with many people who are also seeking to solve the problem. Whilst my experience is primarily of the
carpet industry in India, I have encountered so many misconceptions about the problem it is worrying.
As an example, a survey carried out amongst stock market investors as to their
Children in a brick yard chopping wood for the kilns
attitude towards investments in companies with ethical trading problems, found that 31% of
investors would not invest in companies with tobacco interests, 45% avoided companies that polluted the environment, 58% steered clear of companies engaged in pornography, but top of the list at 70% was people who would not invest in companies that involved child labour.
This survey shows the deep penetration the media has achieved in raising
Boy working in a local shop
wareness to the use of child labour in third world countries. The emotive stories have been in every newspaper, radio and TV station. Sadly, almost all of them have been directed towards the manufacture of goods for western consumption, whereas 90% of exploitation is in industries making items for the domestic market where conditions are the worst. These heart rendering stories are compelling reading, but has it helped the children?
In an ideal world, children should spend their formative years in school, but if there are no schools and their family is desperately poor, what are the children
Children sorting rubbish
in a local tip
to do? In such circumstances, it is understandable that children will be used to generate more income. It is important, therefore, for us to try and fully understand the circumstances that cause children to work, rather than to condemn it on moral grounds. For a lot of families, their main preoccupation each day is finding enough food to eat. Where does our morality stand compared with this?
Take the case of Vikas and Reena Devi, a brother and sister, who were happily enrolled in one of our Project Mala schools until their mother died, then they became orphans. With no income, Vikas, who was just twelve, had to find a job, but the campaign against child labour in the carpet industry prevented him from becoming a weaver which was the main industry in the area, so he found a job in a local Dhoba where he earned just £1 per month to support him and his sister.
An equally distressing story was of Indu and her sister Veena. They were pupils at Project Mala Mujehera school. They showed promise and both of them were
|Indu and Veena making their brickets|
likely to pass the examination to go into our middle school. However, their family was extremely poor and their parents took them out of school to earn some money making brickets out of cow dung which are used on fires. The father only earned only Rs 1,000 (£13) a month and the Rs 800 (£10) per month that the girls would earn selling their brickets would be a big increase in the family income.
Using children as cheap labour can never be condoned but what would you do if you were faced with the alternative of starvation or sending your children to work? We feel desperately sad and helpless when we have children withdrawn from our schools each year to work and earn money to feed the family. These stories are just a few of the heart rendering stories we encounter every day in the part of rural India in which we work.
India is working hard to provide enough schools for all the children and to establish a welfare state, but with a population that is expanding each year by the equivalent of the population of Australia, these ambitions are not going to be achieved overnight. I say that until there is a welfare state to support these people and an education system that provides free education for every child, then please make sure your coverage of such stories helps the children involved.
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