Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Minimal Wages, Maximal Effect

Watching CNN last night, Aaron Brown did a segment on child labor that focused on a documentary entitled "Stolen Childhoods". While at first it just seemed like more depressing footage of the type we've all seen and (mostly) ignored many times before, the more I watched and lsitened, the more that certain aspects of it were able to shock me out of my placid state. I'll let portions of the transcript tell the story:

BROWN: The story of the jermalls is part of a new documentary called "Stolen Childhoods." Two filmmakers spent over seven years filming in eight different countries to capture the degradation, and there's really no other word for it, that is the daily reality for 246 million children in the world.


ROMANO: We're dealing with what you should really consider to be disposable people and kind of even a new model of slavery. It used to be that slaves actually were a substantial investment. These children are sold for as little as $5. They breathe silica, all right.

They work in 115-degree heat day in and day out. They carry over a ton of rock on their head and by the time they're 35, they're dead. They bleed. They become tubercular. Their backs give out on them. It is, you know, it is one of the most horrific deaths to watch.

MORRIS: People say child labor is the result of poverty. It is the result of poverty. Poverty is present wherever there's child labor but child labor is also the cause of poverty. It perpetuates poverty one generation after another.

BROWN: And the world's wealthier nations are increasingly less generous. A recent report from Oxfam, the international relief agency, found that aide budgets of the wealthy countries are now half, just half of what they were in 1960. These children share more than their agony. The abuse they endure, the childhood they've lost, all of it, is illegal.

MORRIS: There are laws on the books outlawing all of the child labor that we've filmed but in many cases the people whose principal job should be protecting children are actually involved in the economic exploitation of the children. They partner with the owners and the operators very comfortably to make a buck.


BROWN: What many Americans don't realize is the extent of child labor in the United States. According to Stolen Childhoods, 800,000 children do migrant labor harvesting the food we eat and it's only against federal law for children under the age of ten.

MORRIS: They miss two to four months of school. As a consequence, those same children have a 65 percent dropout rate in high school. The result is that we are creating and perpetuating a permanent underclass of poor children because migrant farm work is the lowest paid work in America. It's not illegal. You can work a migrant child 12 hours a day, seven days a week.


But the real answer, the filmmakers believe, is simpler. It is education. According to the U.N., $8 billion a year is all it would cost to send every child in the world to primary school.

Now hold on a second. $8 billion a year is all that would take? For the love of all that is holy, how can we not be at the forefront of making this happen? We can spend $152 billion and rising fighting a war in Iraq but we can't find $8 billion to make sure that every child in the world can go to school and isn't being subjected to a life a back breaking labor. Obviously that money isn't going to fix all of the world's ill, but it would certainly be an important first step in the right direction. Heck, just getting the close to 1 million child laborers in this country into school would be an important first step, but this stuff doesn't even make it into the national dialogue when we can talk about ridiculous things like how badly a candidate was wounded during his war service or why it's so important to prevent two people who love each other from getting married. Thank you CNN for at least getting it into my personal dialogue. The movie itself is set to open in theaters later this spring.


Blogger Listmaker said...

but if we actually educated everyone, who would do the grunt work?

two years ago in my class, a student's uncle came in to talk to the class about his experience running a school for poor children in cambodia. he talked to me afterwards and told me and described the levels of poverty in the country. the lowest? kids who lived in garbage dumps scavaging all day. their life expectancy was around 35 years.

February 2, 2005 at 4:09 PM  
Blogger jamie said...

that's a fine question and one that i considered addressing. a part of capitalism is that there always has to be someone on the low end of the scale (and usually a lot of them) to balance out the rich. just as we need a certain amount of unemployment as an incentive for people to work and also to provide a pool of labor when needed. certainly education is not the end to poverty as a whole, but it could be an end to outright exploitation.

the piece talked about some of those type of kids in Brazil. the highlight of their existence are the garbage trucks coming from McDonalds because they get a lot of food then.

February 2, 2005 at 4:39 PM  

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