The children forced to do man's work

WHEN you first meet Charles Anderson, he seems an ordinary schoolboy: working hard for his A-levels, enjoying life with his friends. But Charles once had another life in the fields of Kenya, earning a pittance, afraid of being beaten for not doing his job. Now, he is 19; when he was first a coffee picker he was just seven.

The plight of boys like Charles was highlighted yesterday when an unusual petition, made up of thousands of footprints, was handed in to 10 Downing St as part of a global campaign against child labour. Schoolchildren from across the UK and Ireland have drawn around their feet to show support for the campaign.

The Global March Against Child Labour began in the Philippines. Its next stop is the International Labour Organisation Headquarters in Geneva, at the start of June, where a new agreement to outlaw the most exploitative forms of child labour will be discussed.

When Charles began his working life, he was paid just 10p a day for picking coffee. His mother received 30p for the same work. "My mother was a single lady and we lived in a shanty town," he says. "I also worked in a quarry, breaking stones and loading them into vehicles."

Charles was forced to leave home by a stepfather who regularly beat him. "In our community, single mothers were shunned and by way of punishment they were forced to live with a older men." When the beatings became too much, he went to live with his grandmother. He still had to work in the fields. Then his grandmother fell ill.

"I desperately needed to earn enough money from working in the fields to pay for medicine for her, but I failed to do so and she died," he said. After her death, Charles had nowhere else to go and was forced on to the streets of Nairobi. "I just walked out one morning and went to look for a job to get some money for food."

Life on the streets was even harder. "I picked up plastic bags, papers and other things that could be sold to the recycling industry but none of it paid enough and I ended up begging," he says. "We often ate food just picked out of the gutter, even if it was three days old, because if you did not eat, you died."

Four years ago, his luck changed. He met Pat Botwright, from Norfolk. She had moved to Kenya in 1993 to set up an orphanage for street children in Nairobi. She gave Charles a place at the Covenant House Family Unit and his first opportunity to study.

"It was only when I went to the orphanage at the age of 16 that I slept on a mattress for the first time." Last September, after passing seven O-level standard qualifications, he came to England to study for A-levels in business studies, economics, European history and geography at Bedford Modern School.

"It is only due to the grace of God that I am now studying here after all that happened to me in Kenya," says Charles.

While he supports the Global March, he has no illusions about what is required to eradicate child labour - and that is economic change. "If wages don't increase for people then children will always be forced to earn money. If members of my family had been paid a proper wage, then I would not have had to work."

As well as hoping for a favourable convention at the ILO, march organisers are seeking other measures that will lead to the eventual outlawing of child slave labour. British companies are being urged to adopt independently monitored codes that preclude goods that have been produced by exploiting children. States are also being pressed to strengthen and implement their national laws on child labour, and compulsory education, in accordance with the international conventions on the rights of the child.

All of the global marchers hope to outlaw the type of situation that has led to so many children like Charles Anderson spending their lives labouring on the streets rather than in the classroom.

election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

    Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'