David Batstone, in his book Not for Sale, says, “Twenty-seven million slaves exist in our world today” (1). Several months ago, I would have felt such statistics were overwhelmingly exaggerated or even falsified, some trick by organizations to get funding from sympathetic Americans who did not know any better. However, since reading Little Princes, by Conor Grennan, my eyes have been opened to the atrocities of trafficking around the world. Grennan’s book focuses on child trafficking in Nepal, but what truly grabbed my attention was the mention of child labor. Looking into the topic of trafficking and the types of work people are sold or forced into, I discovered many different types of child labor, some mentioned in Little Princes and some not. Though Grennan’s accounts of child labor force are not contradictory to what experts say, he still fails to effectively represent the many different forms of child trafficking and, by doing so, makes the reader only partially informed about the seriousness of this widespread problem.
Before delving into the topic, I believe one must recognize the common misconceptions about trafficking and child labor. In Child Slavery Now, Kevin Bales, campaigner against modern slavery, makes the claim that “Too often in the popular media…trafficking and sexual exploitation of children is presented as the sole form of child slavery” (319). Other types of non-sexual labor are available for trafficked victims, even though non-sexual types are not extremely advertised and could be just as bad as, or worse than, sexual exploitation. Mike Dottridge writes “While some girls are trafficked into prostitution, most children go into other forms of work…” (Craig 39). Those new to the topic of trafficking must acknowledge that sex trafficking is just one of many kinds; there are in fact many different types of labor in which trafficked children take part.
The type of child labor that stands out the most to me is involuntary participation in warfare, when children fight an adult’s war. In the art of war, the number of soldiers on each side is of great importance, so of course having expendable, easily-replaced soldiers to do the potentially fatal missions would be beneficial. Batstone comments on this system using interviews from former LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, Africa) soldiers:
Former child soldiers report that senior commanders regularly placed them on the front lines of the battlefield. When they set up camp, the children stand watch in an outer ring while senior commanders rest securely in the center. (112)
Children are the perfect candidates to protect their betters. Yet I know many would say that not all armies use children as the first line of defense. Other positions, such as messengers and cooks, are filled by children. I acknowledge these claims are true in many cases, but I still hold that some children are still being used in front-line combat. Besides the fact that they are endangered against their will, they are usually abducted for their services (Batstone 112; Grennan 77). According to Grennan, when the Maoist rebellion needed more soldiers “…children as young as five years old…were taken from their mothers, disappearing into the rebellion” (77). Grennan’s claims about child involvement in armies agree with the expert’s reports of forced entrance and exploitation of children.
Another type of child labor mentioned by Grennan, though not in as much detail, is domestic labor. Jonathan Blagbrough argues that “Child domestic labour is one of the most widespread, exploitative forms of child work in the world today, and one of the most difficult to overcome” (Craig 81) because of the nature of domestic work in which children work out of sight. Also, in a culture where it is normal to have child laborers (Craig 81), it would be hard to tell if the child were working voluntarily or not. Edmonds and Pavcnik explain, in their article “Child Labor in the Global Economy,” that in many cases child laborers work voluntarily in the interest of their families. Child labor is not child abuse, simply an alternative way to help the family survive. However, what they fail to take into account is that trafficked domestics receive little to no pay which barely, if ever, makes it back to the child’s family. In fact, according to Beth Herzfeld in Gender, Trafficking, and Slavery, many families are tricked into giving their children to traffickers when the children are promised well-paying jobs or training (Masika 53). This trend is also demonstrated in Grennan’s account that Nepalese families sold their children to Golkka to give them a good education, not knowing their children would probably never return (Grennan 77). However, since he does not go on to discuss domestic labor explicitly, I can only make a suitable comparison between methods of recue. His rescue of Bishnu from domestic slavery is rather miraculous since Bishnu was found by chance and taken from his owner who was threatened by authorities. However, these fortunate circumstances will most likely not to happen to another child. In this category, Grennan’s rescue “strategy” differs greatly from conventional means.
The final two types of child labor are not mentioned at all in Grennan’s work, but will still be considered. The first I will tackle is sexual exploitation of females, probably the most well-known trafficking type as mentioned earlier. It is surprising that Grennan never refers to sex trafficking since Nepal is known for it, as indicated by Padam Simkhada (Craig 243). Possibly he never encountered it or did not feel its mention appropriate. Nevertheless, this type of enforced labor is probably the most known and ought to be touched upon. When children or adults are trafficked and enslaved, they essentially become property to be used however their owner or employer sees fit. Bales boldly proclaims “Enslavement is a licence to rape…” (320). For those involved in the sex industry, sexual consent between partners is not needed. Critics will probably find offense in my argument that women are forced into prostitution because not all prostitution is involuntary. In her article “Sex as Slavery,” Alison Brysk explains:
Sex work is not always slavery; sometimes it is “freely” chosen as the best of a terrible range of options available to poorly educated young women in patriarchal developing countries. (264)
Basically, those who share Brysk’s view argue that not every prostitute is forced to be there in the first place. I counter this claim by saying that although women or children chose to enter prostitution due to personal or financial circumstances, they probably could not leave their positions even if they wanted to. Usually this occurs when the women sign a contract and are legally bound “to perform sexual services…often in conditions of slavery” (Masika 12), as asserted by Carolina Johansson Wennerholm. Even if women could leave the sex industry along with all the health dangers associated with it, they probably would not because they need the funds, essentially enslaved by financial, or even marital, pressures.
Whereas sexual exploitation exposes people to possible sexually-transmitted dangers, the final type of labor, extreme manual labor, endangers children in a more immediate physical way. For example, children laborers are extremely prevalent in the gold mining industry. According to geologist Krishna Kaphle, from the Nepal Geological Society, gold mineralization is common in the Rolpa district of Nepal, but mining for it is not done. Although gold mining does not happen in Nepal, it is common in other places of the world. As covered by Brysk, “…two million children…work in goldmines worldwide…” (265). They risk their lives by detonating dynamite and working excessive hours with too little food in hazardous areas. Bales comments that their use of mercury to separate the gold from rock is not only “environmentally destructive,” but also physically harmful (321). No child should have to endure such harsh conditions on top of regular sexual abuse which is sure to happen at unmonitored mines (Craig 321).
Although extreme child labor and sex exploitation are not in Little Princes, I believe everyone should better understand trafficking and its effects and aftermath so that each person can try, in his own way, to prevent it. Grennan’s solution for child trafficking was finding the families of trafficked children, starting a NGO, and opening a children’s home for rescued children. But not everyone can take such a hands-on approach to stop trafficking; some can only work in the political sphere. Some believe the answer lies in enforcing already existing trafficking policies, showing that no one “can rely on a broken public justice system to escape prosecution” (Batstone 105). Others think awareness and education of this social injustice can break the chain of child trafficking, starting with the importance of birth registration, the proof that a child exists and has rights (Craig 176). Still many argue that a human rights approach would be most beneficial, thinking “empowering [possible trafficking victims] is more effective than rescuing them” (Brysk 265). I accede that these separate perspectives have their advantages, and that the combination of them would do the world much good. However, I insist that the emphasis on human rights on a personal level would solve much of the problem because all kinds of human trafficking encroach human rights for those seen as vulnerable to exploitation. If people knew of and respected others’ rights, trafficking may not even exist (a radical idea, I know). But whatever approach is taken, the reality is that child trafficking is a serious world problem that needs to be rectified. Grennan got the ball rolling for me by introducing the topic; now it is the time for each of us to decide how we will personally act to change the world for the better.
Bales, Kevin, Jonathan Blagbrough, and Padam Simkhada. Child Slavery Now: A Contemporary Reader. Bristol: The Policy Press, 2010. Print.
Batstone, David. Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade—and How We Can Fight It. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007. Print.
Brysk, Alison. “Sex as Slavery? Understanding Private Wrongs.” Human Rights Review 12.3 (2011): 259-270. Print.
Edmonds, Eric V., and Nina Pavcnik. “Child Labor in the Global Economy.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 19.1 (2005): 199-220. Print.
Grennan, Conor. Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010. Print.
Herzfeld, Beth, and Carolina Johansson Wennerholm. Gender, Trafficking, and Slavery. Oxfam Publishing, 2002. Print.
Kaphle, Krishna Prasad. “Mineral Resources of Nepal and Their Present Status.” Ngs.org. Nepal Geological Society, 2011. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.
The Center for Writing Excellence is pleased to announce our fourth Annual Summer Writing Institute!