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Oliver Twist Lives

Youth unemployment in Europe and the US; child labor in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

We live in a crazy world.

Global slowdowns reduce employment for adults, but they can open “opportunities” for cheaper child labor.  And in hard economic times, many poor parents need the income their kids can bring in — and don’t have the money for school fees, books and clothes.

According to a recent study by the United States’ Department of Labor, child labor is still used to produce some of our most basic products:

India, Bangladesh and the Philippines lead the world in the number of products made by child workers, a US government stock-taking of the global scale of underaged labor revealed.

Some 130 types of goods — from building bricks and soccer balls to pornography and rare ores used in cellphones — involve child labor in 71 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the Department of Labor said.

Like slavery, child labor is a consequence primarily of poverty.  As countries get richer, fewer parents feel the pressure that leads the desperately poor to send their kids into full time work in factories or other tough jobs.  The best way to fight child labor long term is to support pro-growth, pro-development polices — and to fight protectionism in rich countries so the poor will have a better chance.  But countries like Brazil are also finding ways to attack the problem short term — offering poor families income supplements for sending their kids to school, for example.

The dismal truth is that tens of millions of children around the world today have lives more like Oliver Twist than Little Lord Fauntleroy; it’s something the rest of us should not forget.

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  • Luke Lea

    In poor, underdeveloped countries giving up child labor is a luxury they cannot afford. Heck, we had it here in the U.S. a hundred years ago, and a hundred years before that there were ten-year-old children born into life-long bondage in Scottish coal mines. Here’s some testimony:

    No. 116. — Sarah Gooder, aged 8 years.

    I’m a trapper in the Gawber pit. It does not tire me, but I have to trap without a light and I’m scared. I go at four and sometimes half past three in the morning, and come out at five and half past. I never go to sleep. Sometimes I sing when I’ve light, but not in the dark; I dare not sing then. I don’t like being in the pit. I am very sleepy when I go sometimes in the morning. I go to Sunday-schools and read Reading made Easy. She knows her letters, and can read little words. They teach me to pray. She repeated the Lord’s Prayer, not very perfectly, and ran on with the following addition:–“God bless my father and mother, and sister and brother, uncles and aunts and cousins, and everybody else, and God bless me and make me a good servant. Amen.” I have heard tell of Jesus many a time. I don’t know why he came on earth, I’m sure, and I don’t know why he died, but he had stones for his head to rest on. I would like to be at school far better than in the pit.

  • Toni

    In the mid-1990s, I visited India with an executive developing projects there. In Bombay, on the way in from the airport in the middle of night, she gestured to large caterpillar-like bundles on the sidewalks. They’re the Sidewalk Dwellers, people who live and sleep there for lack of any other home.

    On the road in the daylight, we passed beggars. I saw a tall, shabby man holding in one arm a young girl with one leg swathed in bandages. I asked what she did in response. Not to give to street beggars, who will break a child’s leg to make her or him more pitiable. She found other ways to give.

    The novel Slumdog Millionaire gives many more examples of the atrocities some Indian children must endure to survive.

    Child labor is offensive. But in places as poor as India, there are worse fates.

  • J R Yankovic

    “. . . And a hundred years before that there were ten-year-old children born into life-long bondage in Scottish coal mines.”

    Was that by any chance the same Enlightenment Scotland that gave us David Hume and Adam Smith?

    Hmmmmm . . . maybe that explains why at least Smith – among many other Edinburgh “moderate literati” of his day – was so preoccupied with the decline of civic virtue in his own contemporary Scotland. And also with the importance of “sympathy” as the true basis of the “moral affections” of a human being (WOW – do you think he might even have perceived something of a shortage of THAT in his busy, productive, “enlightened” 18th-century Scotland?)

    On the other hand, you gotta hand it to those State-established Presbyterians of the time. They may not have worried overmuch about whether their working little ones were decently clothed, fed and rested. But they definitely made sure they got to Sunday school.

    Rather reminds me a bit of our own “jihadic” era. Apparently then much as now, ambitious, growth-driven, forward-looking religion often found itself assigning greater weight to “efficiency” and (something commonly called) “righteousness,” than to more recognizable and obvious forms of charity.

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