FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Child Exploitation Bonanza

by RAMZY BAROUD

Last night at the hotel lobby of an Arab Gulf country, a family walked in aiming for the westernized café that sells everything but Arabic coffee. The mother seemed distant as she pressed buttons on her smart phone. The father looked tired as he buffed away on his cigarette, and a whole band of children ran around in refreshing chaos that broke the monotony of the fancy but impersonal hotel setting.

Chasing behind the children for no other reason but to be constantly vigilant to any unexpected harm was a very skinny Indonesian teenager wearing a tightly wrapped headscarf, worn out blue jeans and a long shirt. She was the maid, or khadama as maids are called here, meaning a servant.

The girl was but a child, of the same build and overall demeanor of my 14-year-old daughter who is busy with her studies anticipating a very exciting summer ahead. If she is lucky, the Indonesian ‘khadama’ can only expect one day off per two weeks, as she spends all of her time toiling for numerous hours, has no rights, with little or no pay and cannot escape. In most Gulf countries, cheap foreign laborers are asked to hand over their passports in a scheme involving authorities, employment agencies and employers. This is done to ensure compliance and obedience of young men and women that are mostly from southeast Asian countries.

Some Arab countries have become a breeding ground for a form of modern slavery that capitalizes on existing miseries found elsewhere in order to feed the insatiable consumerism that permeates most societies. It is particularly disheartening considering that Islamic doctrines emphasized labor rights many centuries ago, leaving no room whatsoever for alternative interpretations to religious texts that people are created equal, deserving of respect, freedom and dignity.

The injustice doesn’t start and end there. Rich Arab countries are but a mere manifestation of a relentless global phenomenon that requires more than unbinding international conventions but a major shift in cultural attitude.

June 12 was World Day Against Child Labor, an occasion that barely warranted some habitual mentioning by some news media, but certainly not enough to compete with headlines pertaining to the latest gadgets and yet more revealing photos of one Kardashian woman or another. I wonder if we tend to avoid such topics because once they are truly discussed, to varied degrees, we all become culpable? From the brand name clothes we wear, the fancy gadgets we haul around to pretty much everything else we consume, there is surely to be found traces of the sweat and tears of some oppressed laborer or a child with much potential but little hope.

No, this is not a guilt trip, but a pressing issue than can no longer be ignored or lumped into some vague notions about the world at large, being unfair and such. Many forms of injustice are driven by conscious decisions made by all of us. They can also be reversed by conscious decisions made by some of us.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has done much to delineate the problem and tried to engage various governments around the world to alleviate the suffering of laborers, especially the children amongst them. Most countries around the world ratified ILO Conventions into law, but most are yet to challenge the rooted exploitation in their own societies.

Browsing through the text of ILO’s fundamental child labor Conventions (namely No. 138. No. 182 and the more recently No. 189, adopted at the International Labor Conference of 2011), there is enough clarity regarding the minimum age of admission to employment, the ‘worst forms of child labor’ in domestic work and many other related issues. Yet while governments are giddily signing such Conventions – knowing that accountability is almost nonexistent – often time little changes on the ground.

In Burma, an activist, Hsu Hnget told Irrawaddy news, that child labor is “so deeply rooted in society that it had become a ‘tradition.’”

According to a survey conducted by Child Rights and You, and cited in the Huffington Post, “19 percent of people in South Delhi believe that an individual is a child if he or she is below the age of 10 and most did not know about the laws that prohibit child labor.”

In Indonesia, ILO estimates that almost 2.5 million children are toiling at work, while they should not be working in the first place. The Jakarta Post reported that 21 percent of them are domestic workers and 60 percent work in the tobacco industry. According to the ILO and other organizations, many of them work for no pay.

“The children in the tobacco fields worked three to seven hours per day, earning only Rp 15,000 (US$1.51) to Rp 25,000,” reported the Jakarta Post on June 15.

Bangladesh is particularly rife with such exploitation, the type that also involves many western companies seeking cheap labor and large profit margins. Many of those who perished under the rubble of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka on April 24 were children, and of course, exploited adults. Since then two relevant anniversaries came and went with little change in work conditions: Labor Day events on May 1 and World Day Against Child Labor on June 12.

There are an estimated 215 million children classified as child labors. Amongst them, according to the International Labor Organization, “10.5 million kids are employed to cook and clean homes, where they’re often subjected to hazardous conditions and sexual abuse.”

In the Middle East, exploiting laborers is also a ‘tradition’, where there is no uproar, or even a slightly serious protest at the dismal work conditions, especially those involving children. This is not limited to foreign workers, but nationals as well. According to a global interactive map on ILO website, “an estimated 13.4 million, or about 15 percent of all children in the (Arab) region are child laborers.”

In a separate study, the ILO explains the types of exploitation in Arab countries. “Working children in this region are vulnerable to participation in illicit activities such as drug trafficking and the commercial sex industry, recruitment by religious extremists, poor health, exposure to unsafe working environments, and lack of access to skills training.”

Of course, the Syrian civil war is expectedly important to any discussion related to exploitation as its horrible consequences are now extending all over the region. Many Syrian children are being exploited in Lebanon and elsewhere as laborers and prostitutes, reported Al Akhbar on June 11. Similar reports are resurfacing elsewhere, throughout Arab countries, Turkey and Europe. “Not far from the Lebanese hot zones, media strategy expert Issam Azouri describes the situation of a child receiving $20 a day to throw a hand grenade or burn a tire,” according to Al Akhbar, which also reported on a 4-year-old boy that begs to survive.

In some tragic way, the Indonesian teenage ‘servant’ from the hotel lobby last night might not even qualify to be included under ‘worst forms of labors’ per ILO Convention No. 182 which defines the type of labor that is similar to slavery.

Regardless, we must not wait yet another year to make a passing mention of the tens of millions of exploited children, nod our heads in predictable tandem about how unfair the world is, and how lucky we are to be spared such injustice. Child laborers would not exist if it were not for the many more millions of willing exploiters, seeking khadamas, fine cigars and brand name garments. The world, after all, is made up by us, so we’d better take responsibility for it and its exploited children.

Ramzy Baroud is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle  and  “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail