Thursday, April 24, 2008

Signing means...

In todays presentation, I think it was Aubrey who mentioned that India was the only country that had not signed an agreement against the worst types of child labor, which included slavery. This initially struck me as pretty awful. Well, it still does, however, after thinking about a situation that my good friend experienced in India, I thought a little more in depth about the situation.

So, a good friend of mine, Alex, spent last summer in a fairly conservative part of India on an internship. He lived with a host family who he described as very kind and caring. He told me they always provided more than he needed even though they could not be considered above middle class. They were always concerned about my friends well being and were very accommodating. He said that he never had any complaints about the family... except that a young boy lived with them who was, as my friend described him, essentially a slave. Apparently this young boy lived with the family and had no family of his own. My friend's guess was that he had been bought by the family as a slave. The boy cleaned, cooked and did random household chores. My friend guessed he was maybe 8 or 9 years old.

Alex told me he spoke with the father of the family and asked him about the boy and told him he questioned whether it was ok for them to have the boy working in their home. The father explained that there was nothing wrong with it and that it was very common. Apparently the boy was in a much lower class according to the local society and this was accepted as normal.

So, according to various societies around the world, there are clearly different views on expectations and acceptable actions. That is partly why it is valuable to be doing the research and the presentations we are doing now. However, we all seem to be focusing primarily on actual law and policy and while I think these things tend to reflect the views of different cultures, there is much to learn about what different cultures feel at very basic levels.

While slavery is clearly immoral and wrong in the view of the vast majority of people around the world, there are still some cultures who view it as acceptable. So, how do we go about changing things? Do we change the law first? Do we try and make societal changes first? Do we outlaw certain immoral practices before people realize they are wrong? In the U.S. during the civil rights movement it seems people had to be made aware that segregation and discrimination were wrong before laws were enacted. My final question is, would laws protecting human rights even work if they are enacted before the society itself accepts them?

You all might find it uplifting after this to know that my friend Alex coordinated with another family who understood the unfortunate situation and agreed to take the boy in and care for him. All of this was without the knowledge of the original host family. I found it quite courageous of my friend to take action. Perhaps this is would be a message to the original family they would not have received or been able to understand otherwise.


Blogger Professor Prenkert said...

In October 2006, India banned this sort of domestic slavery of children. Yet, as you can read in a very interesting article here, the social buy-in for this ban and the difficulties (as well as laxity) of enforcement have made stories like Dylan's friend's still all too common, it appears.

Last November, I accompanied students in Kelley's Sophomore Block program on a visit to an NGO in Chennai, India, called Hand in Hand which, among other intiatives, fights child labor and runs a residential school to "reclaim" children from child labor. If you know any of the students from the Sophomore Block, I encourage you to talk to them about this experience. It affected many of them deeply.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Brad said...

I think what your friend did is EXACTLY the first step in resolving these types of issue: take action! It would have been so easy for him to simply come back and tell the story, however, I think you hit the word on the spot when you say he is "courageous."

In a previous LAMP requirement, we learned about a concept called the Abilene Paradox. This is when everyone essentially gets "on board" with an idea and goes with it, even if they don't necessarily agree. One of the best parts of America which is evident throughout its history is its ability to change.

In its application to law, this situation, and even the workplace, I believe it takes one person to essentially "step out" of the paradox and speak up to make a difference. It is for this reason that I commend your friend in his actions because it is not an easy thing to do.

It is very disturbing that slavery still exists. Being so far removed, it's almost even tough to comprehend. What is the jurisdiction of international organizations and systems to take action?

2:08 PM  
Blogger Aubrey Murray said...

Just for the record, India is still a country that hasn't ratified the International Labor Organization Convention #182. There are also several others. That doesn't mean their local laws have not adopted some sort of statute prohibiting that kind of behavior though. Just as the United States has reasons for not signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child, other countries may have their reasons for not signing the convention banning the worst forms of labor. (Although it is extremely hard for me to guess what those may be.)

I'm glad to see India's local laws have in fact been expanded to prohibit domestic slavery. The fact that so many people have not adopted those same principles however, is not extremely surprising to me. A group's collective attitude is a very powerful force, and it may take several decades to adequately educate the population and change their values.

We have obviously had those same problems in the United States. Women's rights did not occur overnight, and the abolition of slavery took an entire war.

I do think that government involvement is the first step. But after that, education and economic status have been proven time and again to be the keys to change. Because the situation of child labor inherently restricts getting an education, the economic problem must be resolved first and foremost. Families must be able to provide enough income for themselves so they are able to not only meet their basic needs, but do so without reliance on their children.

Maybe the first step by the government should not be a total outlaw of child labor, but to put more restrictions in place to prohibit its abuse. What if children were also afforded the minimum wage and a stringent working day? Could families then be able to better provide for themselves and change their economic class?

9:20 AM  

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