How do you define what a “child” is? By the way someone acts? By their age?
What is a childhood? A certain percentage of the life expectancy?

Last Saturday, a few friends and I went to a screening of the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate” in Cambridge. The film told the story of a journalist trying to find out the truth behind the child labor and slavery in The Ivory Coast, the area of Africa where most of the world’s cocoa is grown. There were several groups hosting the event– Not For Sale, The Boston Faith and Justice Network, and Equal Exchange.

After the film, there was a period of questions and discussion (which, by the looks of it, the moderator was not expecting to be as serious as it was). The sort of  “solution” that they offered to the problem was for people to buy products that are fairly traded. The idea is for us to exercise our power as consumers and demand the corporations to change their policies. The root problem was determined to be poverty.

When the Equal Exchange representative discussed their policies and guidelines for the farmers that they work with, there were nods of approval and maybe even a feeling of hope and relief that spread throughout the room. Their requirements– simplified to the extreme– is that they don’t work with any farmers who use children under the age of 16 (in accordance with the UN Child Labor Policy). This seems incomplete.

Yes, it’s great that people under the age of 16 aren’t going to be working in fields all day, but they aren’t provided with any sort of alternative. If they don’t take a risk and go to work on the fields, they sit a home, knowing for a fact that they (and their family) will starve to death. The fact that the number 16 is the cut-off mark between child and adult is completely arbitrary. If the average life expectancy in the Ivory Coast is 58 years old, asking someone to not work for the first 16 years of it is absolutely bizarre.

It isn’t enough to just say anyone under the age of 16 cannot work on a farm– from their perspective, that isn’t them being saved from the dreadful farm, but it’s them being kicked out of a money-making (family-feeding) opportunity by a bunch of westerners.

What should be the alternative? Well, what I immediately want to say is education– but that doesn’t help either. Within the cultural context, education is a waste of time. It doesn’t ensure them a high-paying job in the future, and it definitely doesn’t solve the immediate problems of poverty. It would be better to figure out regulations for child labor within the context of the situation. If “childhood” and “child labor” could be redefined and translated into policies appropriate to the social context of The Ivory Coast, it would (ideally, of course) 1. Create a more safe and legitimate way for young people to generate income for their families, and so, 2. Stop them from turning to the risky opportunities presented by traffickers.

At Love146, they recognize the fact that the girls, however harmful their “work” do provide necessary income for their families. When the girls are moved into the Round Home, they have a system in which girls can earn money by doing various chores around the house; money that can then be sent home to their families. Also during their stay at the Round Home, the girls are taught skills that can help them generate money after they are reintegrated.

Clearly, I’m not an expert on the issue and can’t offer a holistic solution, but this blog is really more about just putting into words my thoughts as I find out more and more about trafficking and the problem is unraveled in my brain. Maybe I’ll look back on this someday and laugh at how naive it is, maybe not.


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