Dud deal for poverty’s small­est pris­on­ers

Child Slav­ery 4pm, BBC World News

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

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.

Jill Row­botham

Dick­en­sian deal: Mawule­hawe has been sold by his fam­ily to a fish­er­man

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