Children are bought and sold for cash or for the settlement of a debt. Iqbal Masih was sold into slavery when he was only four years old. His Pakistani parents, desperate for money, sold their young son for less than $16. For six years he was shackled to a carpet-weaving loom most of the time, tying tiny knots 10 hours a day.
The following is a reprinted with permission from The Knight Ridder Tribune Company. All Rights Reserved.
Our purchases keep children in chains
By Joel D. Joseph/Knight-Ridder/Tribune
Tuesday, May 28, 1996 Recently you bought your son or daughter a new soccer ball. There is a good chance that the ball was made by someone your child's age or even younger. Fully half of the soccer balls sold in the United States are made in Pakistan, and every one of those soccer balls had an assist from a child under 14 who toils 10 hours a day in subhuman sweatshops, stitching the ball or cutting material used to make it.
This is not an isolated problem. More than 200 million children worldwide, some as young as 4 and 5 years old, are slaves to the production line. Most of these children work in Asia, especially the nations of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, but Latin America is guilty of this human rights abuse as well. India alone employs 50 million children between the ages of 10 and 14. These unfortunate children manufacture shoes, matches, clothing, rugs and countless other products that are flooding the American market and driving hard-working Americans out of jobs.
More than 60 years ago the United States banned child labor, sweatshops, long workdays and workweeks. But now we are subsidizing, encouraging and failing to criticize the enslavement of young people in the Third World. The so-called Third Wave, boosted by President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the form of GATT and the World Trade Organization prohibits member nations like the United States from discriminating against the importation of goods made by children.
Indian and Pakistani rug makers love child workers so much that they buy them. That's right, children are bought and sold for cash or for the settlement of a debt. Iqbal Masih was sold into slavery when he was only four years old. His Pakistani parents, desperate for money, sold their young son for less than $16. For six years he was shackled to a carpet-weaving loom most of the time, tying tiny knots 10 hours a day.
Carpetmakers like the young weavers because their tiny fingers can make very tight knots, and also because they are cheap to own and maintain. Masih was a free person by the age of 12 and crusaded against the horrors of child labor. In November 1994 Iqbal spoke on the abysmal conditions in the sweat shops of Pakistan at the international labor conference in Stockholm, Sweden.
The next month, he was given a Youth Action award in Boston. In March 1995 he was gunned down in his village in Pakistan while riding his bicycle. Eshan Khan, chairman of the Bonded Labor Front, a group fighting child labor, said, ``We know his death was a conspiracy by the carpet mafia.'' While Pakistan has laws against child labor and slavery, the government has taken very little action to combat it. Only a boycott by the United States and other nations will have any impact on slave-based industries like the rug manufacturers.
Nike similarly bases its operations on finding the lowest-cost labor to make its athletic shoes. Twelve-year-old girls work in Indonesian sweatshops 70 hours a week making Nikes in unhealthy plants that reek of glue. Blue jeans and cheap clothing made in Bangladesh wind up on the shelves of American shops like K-Mart and Wal-Mart.
The United States needs to take a leadership role in eradicating child labor around the globe. If we are punished for violating GATT for doing so, let us confront it head on. Child labor is a human rights issue. What is more of a human right than growing up a free person, attending school without being shackled to medieval machinery?
Please remember every time you go shopping and see a label that says made in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Malaysia or Indonesia, that a 10-year-old prisoner of a feudal manufacturer probably contributed his or her labor to that product.
Don't buy it. Tell the store why you won't buy clothing and other products from these backward nations. Tell your Senator, Congressman and presidential candidates that we should oppose the cruelest abuse of human rights: child labor. And then buy the American-made alternative. It will make you feel better about yourself and your fellow workers and send the world an urgently needed message.
•Joel D. Joseph is chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation. It is sponsoring CAUSE, an effort to combat child labor around the globe. CAUSE, or Children Against Underage Servitude and Employment, is run by children in America. CAUSE will provide materials for students and teachers explaining how children are exploited around the world and deprived of a real childhood. You can write to CAUSE care of Made in the USA Foundation, 1925 K Street, N.W. Suite 100, Washington, DC 20006.