Dud deal for poverty’s smallest prisoners
Child Slavery 4pm, BBC World News
PREPARE to be appalled, if not surprised, by this excellent series that begins tonight with journalist Rageh Omaar giving a guided tour through the lives of children who are doing it tough but are not slaves. Not technically, although you may not see the distinction in the case of 11- year- old Freddie, who climbs down a high altitude and unstable Peruvian goldmine to scrape for fragments and shards to make money for his family.
The child gets little economic advantage from it and risks his health, something that worries his mother, who has no hope to give him. Enslaved to poverty but not a slave, Omaar remarks. Or Abdi, the Somaliland child shepherd who has been herding since he was five, although in those days he was allowed to do so closer to his house. Now he takes his 35 beasts farther afield. Again, he is working for his family.
Mawulehawe, a 12- year- old in Ghana, is sacrificed to his family’s welfare when his mother sells him to a fisherman who needs help in his business. He is taken from his village on a 11/ 2- day journey by bus, boat and on foot. I won’t stay if I don’t like it, he tells Omaar.
This is a measured tale. There is no sentimentality, no heavy- handedness. We are treated only to a close- up of practices common in some parts of the world. Omaar makes the point, fairly, that the situation into which Mawulehawe has entered, willingly, is more akin to an old- fashioned ( Dickensian, you may think) form of apprenticeship. After all, the boys are assets, it is in their masters’ interests to keep them in good shape, and some eventually become fishermen, too.
Still, it’s no good. Just because some things have been like this for years doesn’t mean they are acceptable or decent, Omaar says.
Can it be right that a child in the 21st century is still a commodity, that a child can have a price on his head?
Hard as it is to watch, there is a sense in which any viewer knows this is a terrible kind of warm- up act: a series called Child Slavery is bound for even darker territory. Only once in this episode does Omaar venture into a city, Addis Ababa, where 50,000 children live on the streets. He sits in the office of a social worker who has gathered up waifs and strays, some of whom have escaped servitude, pitifully young and shy. Omaar is doing what he can to make sure the world knows what is happening.
Dickensian deal: Mawulehawe has been sold by his family to a fisherman