13 May 2010

Hitchen on Child Labor

The United Nations has initiated an "action plan" to eliminate the use of child labor by 2016. The plan is laudable and it would be nice to think it will succeed. However, I have seen so many failed "action plans" aimed at eliminating an increasing number of social ills, it is hard not to think of it as yet another buzz-word laden, window dressing exercise.

Wherever a social ill exists, there are those who profit from it - and that is why so many of these plans with ever so fancy names and acronyms are doomed to failure. Words behind a lectern achieve little apart from a round of applause from an audience of all expenses paid, birds of a feather delegates, sitting in a posh venue giving Oscar winning nods of approval with their headphone adorned bonces.

A statistic laden report is not going to stop children dying, suffering, being abused or having their childhood stolen by those with fat wallets, thick skin and wafer thin morality. A spokesman for the ILO said, "“New and large-scale efforts are needed. The situation calls for a re-energized campaign against child labor. We must scale up action and move into a higher gear.”

The world doesn't need clich├ęs - it needs an organization with enough guts and "firepower" (not necessarily literally!) to tackle the bastards who profit from a child's misery and make sure the treatment meted out to such offenders, is harsh enough to act as a warning to others who may think that the way to the good life, is on the back of a five year old working 18 hours a day amid toxic dust.

In October, the Commonwealth Games will be held in Delhi. At a cost of an estimated US$ 1.6 billion it is likely to be the most expensive Commonwealth Games in the event's history. The cheers we will bestow on highly paid, heavily sponsored, chemically enhanced athletes as they satisfy our nationalist pride will thunder around the shiny new stadiums and television sets around the world.

No one will cheer for the children who worked on the construction projects, no one will give a gold medal to the little kid who hour after hour, day after day, carried a back breaking load of bricks. There will be no, "Good on yer mate" for the child coughing dust from his lungs. The media will show gleaming smiles, waving flags, and a host of blazer clad dignitaries. They wont show the children crying at the loss of the childhood they were entitled to. The athletes and officials will be well protected, but few have been protecting the rights or welfare of the child laborers.

Let us not forget either, that selective media coverage leads many to believe that the problem of child labor is confined to so called "3rd world" countries - it is not. While we in the all too often smug, complacent, "it could never happen here" West, sit in front of plasma TVs watching documentaries about child labor in Africa, with rightly indignant disapproval, there are those among us who also work in slave like conditions on farms, in hidden sweat shops and in illicit but highly profitable black economies.

Will child labor be eradicated by 2016? Not a cat in hells chance. In 2016, will there still be those who use and profit from societies most vulnerable? You bet your sweet life there will be.

Related articles:

i On Global Trends Action plan seeks to curb child labour
i On Global Trends: Death but no glory for India's migrant construction workers


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