Sunday, November 3, 2013

Why Should We Care About Child Labor in Tanneries: Looking Beyond Our Own Biases

Where we are born and how much privilege we are born into, is not something any of us control. I often find a sentiment common among Americans, is that we feel we can make changes for the better in our own lives and the world around us by working hard and living by the moral values in which we were raised.  Our society is permeated with a "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" mentality - and this makes it difficult for us to understand when and why there are people among us and throughout the world, who are unable to accomplish this.

Too often we judge and dismiss others based only on the criteria of what we have experienced ourselves.  We love and value our children and assume the world is the same.  It may be assumed that a family who uses a child, sacrificing it for the good of the family - has values that are different from our own and judge them to be bad or evil. Instead of being seen as victims, they seem even more strange and horrific, possibly less worthy of compassion. What may not be considered is how dire the situation must be for the family - to make such a decision seem reasonable and the best choice, the only choice worth taking.

The question is, how far do things have to deteriorate before sending your child away to work.  Even in America, where our belief system maintains these values, we have a large population of people unable to take care of themselves.  The National Center For Children in Poverty (NCCP) says that 22% of the children in this country live in families who make less income than what is needed for basic substance.  Families that are suffering under the constant stress of poverty and living at the fringes of society, are the ones whose children may end up taking on the burden of their parents trouble.  Even in the United States this can be seen in the illegal drug and sex industry, undocumented laborers and even legally on farms - children are used as cheap labor.

Children working on a farm in Oregon
This is not a problem that occurs only in "foreign places".  It occurs everywhere.  Even in my home state of Oregon as seen in this photo (read about Oregon Child Agricultural Labor) there are huge issues.  And this is the point - child labor happens because their families are so impoverished and are unable to find a way to make a healthy living for themselves.  They have no other way out.  It may be something that is inherited over generations, or due to circumstances beyond their control.  But nobody chooses to be in these conditions.

Child labor is a sad and awful thing where ever we encounter it.  It robs the children of their youth and vitality, and it robs the community of their potential.  And when we realize we are a part of the problem, it is so appalling we often find we'd prefer to turn our heads and not acknowledge it.  It's too hard, to see and know that the goods we buy come from children who sacrificed themselves for their families.  Tanneries in Bangladesh and elsewhere are something we need to know more about - as they supply the leather that is used in our everyday goods.  The business practices are not something any human would want to be a part of, and yet, we are.

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