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The Importance of Child Labor

For some reason, I’ve always, from a young age, subscribed to the belief that it’s a bad thing when children have to work, and that it’s wrong, and that it should be stopped. What I failed to realise, is the importance of children starting work at a young age. I was just watching Sansui Boogie Woogie, hosted by Javed Jaffrey, on Sony TV (in the UK at 8:40pm on Friday January 25th 2008) through a Sky dish, and I was blown away by the stark facts that were presented in front of me..

The group that had just performed their dance on Boogie Woogie, was made up of people who all earned between INR1,000 and INR2,000 indian rupees per month (which translates to about GBP£13-GBP£26 per month or about USD$25.43-USD$50.85). Most of these dancers worked either in a biscuit factory, or as labourers. These people were at times the sole provider, or one of two people working in their homes, and to think that everything they spent and earnt was less than some people make in an hour. Shocking.

In order to appear on the TV show, Boogie Woogie, which was filmed in Mumbai, the group had to travel from their home town, and the only way they could afford to do that, was after collecting donations from people in their colony, so they could pay for food and transport to get all the way there. These people were happy to have just appeared on the TV show, and have had a chance to perform on the Boogie Woogie stage. You have to remember that this TV show is a bit of a sensation, having been on TV for 10 years in India.

Javed JaffreyOne of the hosts, Javed Jaffrey, made a point of asking each of the members of the group, what they each earnt, individually. Then started asking them how young they were when they had started working. Some of these children had started working as young as 11 or 12. When he asked them what they thought of the people that want to abolish child labor, they said that they were wrong. Simply because, the had to start working at such a young age to support their families and make sure they had enough food to eat. When people tend to go on about how wrong it is for children to work, most people don’t realise that it’s not out of choice, but usually out of necessity. And when it comes to survival, going to school just isn’t an option, if there isn’t enough food to eat at home. Upon further discussion, the host clarified that there were times when child labor was wrong. That was when the children are exploited, by being made to work 12, 14 or even 16 hours a day, and being paid unfairly. When the working conditions are hazardous to their health, when they’re exposed to toxic fumes, or their life is literally put at risk. But when the children are paid fairly for their work, are able to work in an environment that is safe for them physically, and they work decent hours, then there’s nothing wrong with it. Especially if the alternative is to see their family go hungry, and for them to not have enough food to eat.

I know from my family’s own personal experience that at the end of the day it has absolutely no bearing on what’s possible in the world, whether as a child you have to work or not. My father lost his father at a young age, and so in order for his family to get by he started working from the age of 14. To this day, I’ve never really understood the impact of him working so young could have had on him, but today I realise just how important it must have been for him to work, so that there was some food on the table. There are days when my dad would, as a child have some onion with a chapatti as a meal, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that… But it’s just an eye opener to think how simple and basic the meals would have to have been, so that they could survive. At the end of the day, that they were able to get by, with what they could, if the children in the family hadn’t been working (in addition to my grandmother, who was also working), then there’s nothing wrong with child labor at all. I wouldn’t have my dad here now today, if he had been forced to go to school on an empty stomach, and learn, but not have enough to eat, to be able to continue living.

I say that there’s nothing wrong with it – there’s actually a lot wrong with it. Children should all have the opportunities to play, and learn, and not have to grow up faster than they already have to. But if we’re not going to feed their families and support their homes, than the very least we should do, is make sure that they can work in humane conditions, in a supportive environment, until the rest of the planet that has all the money, and wealth gets their act together, and starts to re-distribute the wealth.

But if we are going to stand up and cry out against child labor, then we have to be willing to pay not just for their education, but to feed their families as well.. Granted that may not be much by most westerners standards. Especially if you’re reading this now, you could probably afford to give some of your wealth to the less fortunate. But at the end of the day, like one wise philosopher shared recently, nature has a way of finding a balance.

Whilst we continue to live rich, decadent, affluent lives, living carelessly, without regard for the other, then there’s always got to be the opposite, to keep things in check.. Whilst we may be a minority, with access to wealth, and technology, the percentage of the worlds wealth that we control is reflected in the larger majority of people who have nothing.

Social Justice is not, nor should it ever be about wealth re-distribution; some people are just better at manifesting abundance powerfully into their lives. What we do want to do however, is as custodians of that wealth and abundance make sure that everyone is fed and clothed, without having to work for those basic necessities. What that looks like in the world, I cannot tell you… But I’ll tell you now, the day we stop having to buy or sell food, is the day that all of the children in this world will be able to consider the option of an education instead of a working life. But seeing as most children in modern education systems don’t tend to learn much anyway, I don’t know what good going to a regular school is really ever going to do?? But that’s going to have to be food for thought, for another day…

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