” For 215 million children, this day should be every day” (U.R. Romano)
This week at Media Voices, we turn to friends, mentors and colleagues to share their views on progress and setbacks in the global campaign to end the worst forms of child labor.
In his Viewpoint, “The Children in Our Fields”, filmmaker, photographer, journalist and MVC board member U.R. Romano takes aim at the hypocrisy of our government’s refusal to comply with ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor, a resolution the U.S. ratified in 1999 and works actively around the world to enforce. How is it then that we are still unable to lead by example by protecting our own children who harvest our food with Federal law and adequate regulations?
With over a decade of experience traveling the world recording child labor, Romano argues passionately that the time has long passed for us to protect children working in U.S. agriculture with passage of the CARE Act for Responsible Employment, a bill victimized for ten years by partisan delay and distortion.
Often the simplest ideas, properly applied, can make a huge difference in our efforts to end child labor. For the past decade, local child labor committees have worked in the most remote corners of Kenya in an on-the-ground effort to help rural children go to and stay in school.The background of this remarkable success story is the subject of Dr. Philista Onyango’s Viewpoint.
Dr. Onyango helped found the African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) in 1986 and is currently its Regional Director for Nairobi. A tireless advocate for all children, she has worked with The Global March to End Child Labor, UNICEF, Childwatch International and The Organization for African Unity. Her efforts were instrumental in establishing the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and The 2001 Children’s Act, two landmark documents that define under law the human rights of all African children.
In her viewpoint, “The Potential of Child Labour Committees to End Child Labour in Rural Kenya” Dr. Onyango details the ground-breaking role these committees played in changing attitudes of permissiveness that have traditionally condoned rural children working on coffee, tea and sisal plantations instead of going to school. Established across rural Kenya, the CLCs bring together government officials, local leaders and social service providers, who then work directly with the schools, plantation owners and unions to end child labor. Identifying children at risk, raising funds for the schools through income-generating projects, interacting with the families whose children pick coffee for survival, the CLCs are locally driven and a well-managed effort that gets real results. I’ve seen them at work.
Last September, I retraced the steps I took in 2002 when filming child labor committees at work on coffee plantations in Kenya, by meeting with CLCs in Busia and Loitokitok Districts. In each instance, the Regional Education Ministers along with a committed group of locals were waiting to discuss their agendas to improve the lives of the district’s poorest children by helping families cover the costs of educating their kids. In both districts, we followed our meetings with the local CLC with a visit to local primary and secondary schools, where we talked with the headmasters, teachers, students and filmed the income-generating projects that help defray costs and feed hungry kids.
In Busia, our meeting was just a few minutes from the coffee plantation where a decade before we had filmed children working hungry, covered in pesticides. The area is poor, with many slums and when the coffee is in season, children will once again leave school to make ready cash. The local primary school, built on land owned by the coffee plantation, has 700 students with no school lunch program. Here, the income-generating projects started by the CLC are particularly important in raising funds to feed and educate the children. But the most important function of the committee is to identify the high-risk boys and girls and then to work with their families to overcome all obstacles and keep them in school.
In Loitokitok, which is near Mount Kilimanjaro, an arid area that’s largely Maasai, the challenges are somewhat different. Here, children and families also confront poverty, but in addition the young girls of the community are often pressured into early marriage and FGM (female genital mutilation) is widespread. The CLC works to help girls attend and complete primary school before they become wives and mothers. In our short film, Kimana, shot at the one of the local government secondary schools and produced for the Kenyan Schoolhouse Program Media Voices sponsors, you can meet and hear from the children who benefit directly from the Loitokitok Child Labour Committee.
Today, the future of child labor committees in Kenya is clouded by a chronic lack of resources. Initially, the program was supported by the International Labour Organization with support from Solidarity and the U.S. Department of Labor. The CLCs have always helped fund their own efforts with income-generating projects and many of their members are unpaid volunteers. With the withdrawal of outside funding, which ended in 2004-05, the committees now lack enough resources to pay simple transportation costs to meet and their work is severely hampered. I would be hard-pressed to find a clearer example of the limitations of time-bound projects to end child labor than the case of the CLCs in Kenya.
In my observations drawn from a decade of filming in Kenya, the CLCs are a low-cost and successful intervention, an effective tool in removing children from the worst forms of rural agricultural labor. The initial funding made a creative solution to child labor a reality. Now, it’s time to re-energize these committees and expand this program by resuming our financial support. Without voluntary, locally led programs like the CLCs, we’ll never succeed in removing children from rural agriculture in Kenya. The original partners in this undertaking should regroup and refund this effort. It is a high value undertaking with the caring and experienced people of ANPPCAN playing a pivotal and on-going role.
Today, ANPPCAN continues to train and partner with local CLCs while advising the government on ways to coordinate efforts to help poor children go to school. Nothing has a more profound impact on a child’s life than education. For the past ten years, we have been proud to have ANPPCAN and Dr.Philista as our partners in managing the Kenyan Schoolhouse Program, a direct service project of Media Voices that removes children from child labor and covers the costs of their secondary education. In the rural corners of Kenya, where our children go to school, a Kenyan girl has only a 25% chance of ever attending high school. Many of these children benefit directly from the help of the local child labor committees.
And finally, no observance of World Day Against Child Labor has ever occurred without the watchful and wise participation of our friend and colleague, Kailash Satyarthi, co- founder and chairperson of the Global March Against Child Labour. In his Viewpoint, “A Week of Accomplishments,” he discusses the efforts of The Global March and their partner, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, to force the government of India to take real measures to end child labor in India, the country that still accounts for more children working in medieval conditions than any other.
For the past 31 years, Kailash has led this deeply personal campaign, often risking his personal safety, to make the world aware. Now, with a National Consultation on Child Labor he helped organize in Delhi this past May, he has redoubled his efforts to make the worst forms of child labor a thing of the past.