Monday, February 12, 2007

We're Thinking Too Small

Which is not usually my problem, I must confess. Usually I'm the one coming up with grandiose, nonsensical schemes that couldn't possibly be implemented. Like, save the world. And then we'll go out for coffee, because we should be done by noon. But this time, I'm guilty of thinking too small.

I meet kids who need help, real live individuals with stories and hopes and pain, and I want to help THIS PARTICULAR PERSON. That's not a bad thing, and there's a place for that. But this is not that time and place.

There are laws against child labor almost everywhere. The laws, of course, don't guarantee that it doesn't happen, but they do express something about the will of the body politic. So, if there's a law against slavery and it's happening anyway, maybe the government needs to be held accountable. A nationwide education campaign, eliminate the umpteen exemptions that allow children to be employed in all kinds of businesses. Comply with the standards for industry inspection. Keep track of the people who've been fined for non-compliance with child labor laws, so they don't just start up business again somewhere else. Why aren't those things happening?

And bigger still.... the World Bank could get into the act and start scrutinizing its grant and loan recipients for compliance with child labor laws. They could provide funding for NGOs that offer alternatives to families and children.

Consumers (you, me, us) should look at the goods they buy with a more critical eye. Silk... carpets...silver...leather... be careful.

It's one thing to stage raids on charlatan employers and rescue children; in the short term it must be done. But I really have to look past the pain of individuals and work with the people advocating more systemic change. Suck it up, put on my big-girl pants, and go talk with people who can improve things for children I didn't meet.

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