Children sweating in the fields on the farms in the Ivory Coast or in the factories in Bangladesh. Children are working up a sweat – whether it is cocoa or soccer balls. Now it is in the cotton fields in Uzbekistan. Yes, we found another place where these pesky little people work when they shouldn’t be working so hard – or not work at all. I mean really, kids should be going to school and playing in the parks. Right? Maybe not as clear-cut as that. What’s wrong with a bit of child labor?
What’s wrong with kids working. Hey, my kid better clean her room before the all new tough dad comes a knocking (hear the laughter in the background – we had kids so I can have mates of my mental age to play with). But seriously, kids should do some work. It keeps them off the streets and out of trouble. The streets ain’t what they used to be. Just look at the yobs out in the streets in the UK. Oh, our bleeding bloody hearts. These poor little kids, poor little Peter, have nothing to do but sit around and drink and smoke. And we should support them a bit more if they get into some mischief (like stealing from and/or mugging people). Just today the UK moaned and bitched about disciplining the kids that are in detention centres. Oh shame, those poor little kids. All they did was rob, mug and assault people. What is a stab-wound between friends?
And then we look back and talk about the good old days. Remember the good old days? What did you do in the good old days as a kid? Backchat your folks? You get a piece of that leather on your backside for that. We didn’t have time to rob or assault people – we had to earn our meager little money (if any) the hard way. In the fields and in the roads and in the house.
For those privileged enough to have grown up in nice neighbourhoods. Remember what the kids had to do? They had to deliver newspapers. Come rain or susnshine – ride that bike and deliver them newspapers. Mr Wilson didn’t care if precious little Tommy was going to rain wet or not. He wanted his newspapers and Tommy took the responsibility of delivering them. Now? It’s a guy in his 30’s driving his car and flinging the newspapers out his window. Yes – that’s what happens in my street. Why? Because Tommy’s mom is a bit scared he might get a cold and he is still sleeping you know. He was up till late last night playing World of Warcraft. Tiring, I know. Maybe I am completely wrong and that 30-year old guy actually started delivering the newspaper about 20 years ago and just refuses to give it up. He’s got a nice little racket going there.
And for those who grew up on the farms? You think Chuck had the luxury of lying in a bit before school? And get his breakfast in bed over weekends – at about 10 in the morning at the earliest? Don’t think so. You want some cereal this morning Chuck? Good – go cut some corn and milk the cows first. Cornflakes and milk don’t grow in containers you know. Get up at 4:30 and do your work before getting ready for school – and cycle to school. No soccer moms back then. You want to play soccer? Then run to school to warm up. I’ll show you what to do with that ball. Those Bangladesh kids worked hard to make those soccer balls you know.
But for the majority of kids there were no good old days. You see many of them did grow up on the farm. But it wasn’t their farm. They were just the workers on the farm. Little Sipho also got up early in the morning with young Willem (South African names). They were good friends back then. They milked the cows together and had their morning chat about what mischief they were going to get into later that day. When Willem gets back from school. Sipho didn’t go to school. Didn’t make sense. His folks earned next to nothing on the farm and to make ends meet Sipho had to work. And even if the farmer treated his workers like his children – these children didn’t go to school. No. They had to work. What else were they going to do?
And the other kids in the township? Some of them went to school. Where they were taught in a foreign language by a teacher with little or no qualifications. But it was better than nothing. Because those with nothing ended up working. But not in the “nice” places like the factory or the farms. No. They ended up working on the rubbish dump. Joseph is picking through the rubbish that the “rich” threw away. Collecting the empty bottles and paper to sell to the recyclers. And picking the copper out of wires to melt and sell. And sometimes you find a few nice toys or clothes or sport equipment that you can wash off and clean up nicely. And then sell it at the market on Saturday. Some “easy” cash those toys and clothes.
And what about Kwame? Kwame would think Joseph has it easy. But he doesn’t know about Joseph. Because Kwame doesn’t know much outside his world – his world where he travels between the mine and the hostel. Hostage of the mines. The chemical mines. Those chemicals we need for our medicine. But it’s medicine little Kwame won’t get. He’ll die to young and the medicine is to deal with obesity and hair-loss – things he will never suffer from. No. Those would be the least of his worries. And then there is Abhra doing the stitching of those soccer balls. But stitching the soccer balls is better than the alternative – selling your body for a little bit of food and money.
But it is not all doom and gloom. Those in the cocoa fields are lucky. More than 80% of them are actually members of the family who owns the farm. Like Willem. They work on the farms because it is their farm. School would be great. But it doesn’t put food on the table today. And learn about what? Maths and science and geography? All you need to know is the maths of running a (small) profit on the farm to feed everyone – know how much it costs you to grow your crops and how much you get when you sell you crops. And the science you need is knowing how to grow your crops and use the right fertiliser to make sure they grow well. And the geography of how you use the lay of the land – and plan for good weather and bad weather. They don’t teach those maths and science and geography in the school. No. That’s what you get from working on the farm and listening to the old and wise men who have been doing it since – since their father told them. This is the schooling you need because this farm will be your farm one day. And you have no time to waste on theories when the reality of climate change is coming your way.
We need more child labour in this world. More children knowing how the crops grow. Because they need to feed us tomorrow. They are our future. If they don’t grow it no one will. And we need more child labour to keep those yobs off the streets. Give them something meaningful to do. Something that will keep them busy. Work is a natural restraint – we won’t need those detention centres then.
But of course it isn’t that easy. No. We know the world isn’t black and white. Because what do we do with Joseph? What do we do with Kwame and Abhra? That is where we fail. Those kids on the rubbish dumps and the mines and the prostitutes. They are still there. Picking through what we threw away. Digging for those ingredients we need to make us feel better. Stitching the soccer balls little Tommy needs. And for those pictures we find on the internet – sorry, I can’t even go there. That’s just too hard. This is too hard.
I have kids. I don’t mind them working. In fact, they should be working. But there is a line. A line that crosses all cultures. A line no culture has the right to cross. But we needed to give people choices. We need a little less of Kwame and Peter – a little bit less working on the rubbish dump and living on the streets and a little less of being a rubbish yob in the streets. Let the children work. But remember who they are. They are children. They are our children. I have two daughters. And this is too hard. I need some hot cocoa now.