Child slavery: the half-truth
`Children hate school. They'd much rather be working'
Friday 12 June 1998
Many groups in the world are doing something to combat child exploitation and slavery, but it is safe to say that this is the only one that is actively promoting it.
"Don't get me wrong," says Herman Woodlife, with the air of one who is used to being got wrong. "All we are trying to say is that what people call child slavery is often child labour, or giving children a job, and what is wrong with that?"
Well, for a start, it means taking jobs from adults. And it means taking childhood away from children.
"Absolute poppycock!" says Herman Woodlife. "It's about time we nailed this myth that children, given the choice, would wander the woods gathering wild flowers, or go folk dancing, or learn French. Children would rather sit at a computer, watch TV, play mothers and fathers or fight each other. In other words, do exactly what grown-ups do, and what they call work. You know, I'm not entirely convinced that there is such a thing as childhood."
Then where does the myth of childhood come from?
"God knows," sighs Herman Woodlife. "There was never any fuss in previous ages about children working. Well, there was a certain amount of fuss about the conditions - but not about the principle itself. Why should it be different today?"
Well, maybe because children should be given a chance to have an education ...
"Poppycock!" says Herman Woodlife. "Have you ever been to a school? Have you watched children being educated? They hate it! They think of it as real slavery! They'd much rather be working. If you want to liberate children, liberate them from school, not the workplace! At least they're earning money at work. In school, they're just wasting money."
The slogans roll off Herman Woodlife's lips as if well rehearsed. There is a certain persuasive half-truth about his words. But if you half-believe what he says, you have to half-believe that school is a waste of time. Or at least a half-waste of time.
"But of course it is!" asseverates Herman Woodlife. "Most of what we learn we either forget or never use. All those years spent learning French or Shakespeare or the Bible or the basic geography of Nigeria - all a waste of time! Unless you are the kind of person who goes in for pub quizzes. The kinds of thing you should be learning at school are those which help prepare you for the workplace, for life. Do we learn at school about mortgages? Civil engineering? Money management? Industrial reality? I think not. Where do you learn this sort of thing? From your mates at work. So children who start working at 10 are going to be 10 years ahead of other children! That is why we support Child Slavery, so-called. Child Pride, we like to call it. You know, many children who have been working - with our support - often tell us in later life how grateful they are that they got such a practical start. Especially those who went on to university, and didn't arrive green behind the ears."
But is working in some East End or Pakistani sweatshop, turning out cheap soccer shirts, really a practical start in life?
"Sure," says Herman Woodlife. "Do you think playing Tomb Raider II on a computer, like some pampered middle-class kid, is a practical start? I was watching a film about the late Gianni Versace the other day, and do you know, the thing that he always regretted, was not having a practical background in sewing and tailoring. Our kids have got a great start in life if they want to be a superstar."
"Our kids turning out cheap sportswear in the Far East."
So the Child Slavery Support Group is just a front for the sportswear Mafia?
"Certainly not!" says Herman Woodlife, shocked. "We exist to redress a balance. You have heard the case against child slavery.But have you heard the case for child slavery, argued humanely and sensitively? I fear not. That is why we are here."
Do you want to know more about the work of the Child Slavery Support Group? Send an SAE to Junior Workforce Dept, Soccer Sportswear House, London.
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