I am not a numbers man. I hated algebra, geometry and all the rest. The recitation of figures doesn’t usually affect me. I can understand them intellectually and know their significance, but they do not move me. I am someone who hears stories; see pictures and talks to people to get emotionally invested. However, sometimes figures can be so shocking, so mind-blowing that they throw you off kilter. This is what occurred yesterday as Rachel and I were creating a database for the child labor program at BASE.
One of the justifications for child labor is that it is an economic necessity. A family is so poor that it needs every source of income that it can get, even if that source of income is 7 years old and should be reading not scrubbing. In a country as poor as Nepal, with a GDP per capita of $460 you need money where you can get it. I do not accept these arguments as just or correct, but I can understand them intellectually. Bonded child labor is wrong, but it does not mean that the parents that put their children into it are evil. Life is not black and white, even if we wish it was. Sometimes economic necessity causes people to do things that tear them apart.
While never accepting this, I understand it. However the numbers in the report show the direness of the situation. The vast majority of the children in bonded labor make between 250 and 500 Rupees a month. At todays exchange rate that is between $2.90 and $5.75 A MONTH. Let that wash over you for a second; it took me over 5 minutes to even begin working again after figuring this out. This amount is such a pittance that you are both furious at the parents for subjecting their children to harsh conditions and 15 hour work days for such an amount and realize the crushing poverty they are in that they are willing to subject their children to this for such an amount and the promise of the meager rations the children receive.
I wish I could rail against parents and the evil of bonded labor. Yes, bonded labor is unequivocally wrong, but so are the economic conditions that drive parents to this. So are schools fees (which some employers promise to pay) in one of the poorest countries in the world. The lack of infrastructure, economic prospects, upward mobility and good government are also wrong. Nepal is suffering from so many wrongs, that who know what it is right and who can judge anymore. I have spent more on Coca-Cola in the past week than these children earn in a month and I have certainly not put in anywhere near the effort that they have.
We must steel ourselves for the many challenges that the people face in Nepal. Everyday BASE is dealing with another challenge. They are trying to tackle poverty, education deficiency, micro-enterprise, environmental degradation and so much more. Sometimes you feel that they are being too broad, but then you look at the range of problems and feel they are not being broad enough. Bonded Child Labor is wrong, but it is not something that can be stopped, just by telling people it’s wrong. Bonded labor will only be ended in Nepal when other wrongs are righted. Till then the numbers will stay depressing, hopefully they will improve with all of the work going into stopping child labor, but till then even reading a database will cause soul searching.
Posted By Alex Kelly
Posted Jun 24th, 2012