Bill Nemitz: GOP bills exploit kids in workplace

Portland Press Herald

By Bill Nemitz

Staff Writer

Talk about a diversionary tactic.

While Gov. Paul LePage has much of Maine in a lather over where he’s hiding the now infamous Department of Labor lobby mural (pssst … look in the electrical closet!), Republicans in the Legislature are hard at work ramming through something infinitely more troubling.

They want to put Maine’s kids to work longer, later and for less money. Read more


Solis joins President Obama on El Salvador trip to Highlight Solidarity on Combating Child Labor


Contact Name: Gloria Della or Lina Garcia

Announces $10 million contribution to target root causes of exploitative child labor

WASHINGTON — As part of President Obama’s Latin America trip, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, El Salvador first lady Dr. Vanda Pignato and El Salvador Minister of Labor Victoria Marina Velasquez de Aviles launched a project to help the country combat exploitive child labor by targeting its root causes. Secretary Solis announced that the U.S. Department of Labor will contribute $10 million over the next four years to support this ambitious initiative. Read more


Somalia: Recruitment of Child Soldiers on the Increase

Source: Content Partner // IRIN

NAIROBI – With the escalation of fighting across Somalia since January, armed groups have reportedly recruited more child soldiers to their ranks, some even forcing teachers to enlist pupils.

In a recent offensive against rebel groups in Bulo Hawo town on the border with Kenya [ ], the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stated on 17 March, “…children were involved as fighters and a significant number of them were killed. According to reports, intense fighting in the area between Dhusamareb and Ceel bur in Galgadud has also resulted in many child casualties.”

“The TFG [Transitional Federal Government] forces, their allies, the Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama, and Al-Shabab are all engaged in the recruitment. Al-Shabab [the largest armed opposition group] is the biggest culprit,” said an official working with an NGO that monitors the state of children in the country. The official, who asked not to be named, did not suggest the African Union’s TFG-supporting military mission in Somalia, AMISOM, was also using children. Read more


New York Times: Itinerant Life Weighs on Farmworkers’ Children

March 12, 2011

SALINAS, Calif. — A girl in Oscar Ramos’s third-grade class has trouble doing homework because six relatives have moved into her family’s rusted trailer and she has no private space.
A boy has worn his school uniform for two weeks straight because his parents are busy with harvest season.
And while Mr. Ramos patiently explains the intricacies of fractions, he is attuned to the student who confides, “Teacher, on Saturday the cops came and took my brother.”
“I know you still love your brother,” Mr. Ramos gently told him. “But let’s talk about your vision for your future.”
In the clattering energy of Room 21 at Sherwood Elementary here, Mr. Ramos, 37, glimpses life beneath the field dust. His students are the sons and daughters of the seasonal farmworkers who toil in the vast fields of the Salinas Valley, cutting spinach and broccoli and packing romaine lettuce from a wet conveyor belt: nearly 13 heads a minute, 768 heads an hour, 10 hours a day.
One-third of the children are migrants whose parents follow the lettuce from November to April, Salinas to Yuma, Ariz. Some who leave will not return.
“Dear Mr. Ramos,” they write, from Arizona or Oregon, “I hope you will remember me. …” Mr. Ramos, the child of migrants himself, always does.
Schools like Sherwood, and teachers like Mr. Ramos, are on the front lines, struggling against family mobility, neighborhood violence and the “pobrecito,” or “poor little thing,” mentality of low academic expectations. But the often disrupted lives of the children of migrants here is likely to grow still more complicated as the national debate over immigration grows sharper.
Efforts by lawmakers to rescind automatic citizenship for children born in the United States to illegal immigrants are already stoking fears among many agricultural workers, and that has consequences for their children. Some parents, as they move with the crops, are already keeping their children out of school when they get to Arizona because they are worried about the bureaucracy and tougher restrictions in the state.
Despite the resilience of their young charges, educators at Sherwood face a catalog of need: 97 percent of students are near the poverty line, compared with 56 percent statewide. Seventy-seven percent have limited English, versus 32 percent throughout California. Only 6 percent of parents here attended college — the state average is 55 percent — and many are illiterate in their native language.
Though there has been progress, Sherwood hovers near the bottom of the state’s performance index, along with more than 100 California elementary schools with a similar demographic, many in the agricultural strongholds of the San Joaquin and Salinas Valleys.
Even as Latino enrollments grow, the number of new teachers earning bilingual credentials has fallen in the last decade to 1,147 per year from 1,829, according to the California Teacher Commission. The shortage of bilingual teachers is hurting Latino academic achievement, said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Teachers like Mr. Ramos, “who have both language skills and the framework to respond to these kids’ cultural assets,” Professor Fuller said, are all too rare.
Mr. Ramos, one of eight children, grew up following the lettuce, too. Home was a farm labor camp near Salinas, and he has traveled far. The camps — a setting forJohn Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” — were the subject of his undergraduate thesis at the University of California, Berkeley.
In his classroom, he has built an altar of sorts: a collection of Berkeley memorabilia, crowned with the inspiring message “Class of 2024.” But even for the most determined students here, poverty and college often do not mix.
The challenges for children in East Salinas, known as Alisal, have deep roots: during the Depression, thousands of Dust Bowl migrants packed into tiny shacks. Today, Sherwood sits on a fault line of violence between the Hebbron Heights Surenos (blue) and the Fremont Street Nortenos (red) street gangs; a first grader was wounded by gunfire last year hiding behind a play structure. Students must dress in black and white to avoid gang colors.
Bruce Becker, Sherwood’s violence prevention specialist, counsels students who sleep beneath carports and live in such cramped quarters that their parents take them to the local truck stop to wash up before school. Jose Gil, a high school teacher who has started an after-school basketball academy, said many of his students did not see much of their parents during harvest season.
“They have little brothers and sisters to take care of, maybe cook for,” he said. “Yet they’re supposed to turn in a 10-page paper by tomorrow? I mean, it’s unreal.”
Recent crackdowns at the border have meant longer family separations. “My mom’s in Mexico with my little baby sister,” says one girl in Mr. Ramos’s class, a frequent hand-waver. “Every day she calls me, but some days she forgets.”
Mr. Ramos’s approachable style contrasts with the tumult in his students’ young lives. He firmly discusses rules and respect for others with a boy who misbehaves at recess, but takes him aside to talk about superheroes and Mexican soccer, two affinities they share. And in time he learns that his student was worried about his father, who has been deported. Talking with another boy whose father and brothers were jailed for gang activities, Mr. Ramos suggests that he does not need to follow the same path. They discuss the boy’s goal of joining the Marines.
“He wanted to get away,” Mr. Ramos said. “He didn’t want to spend his life in Salinas.”
Like those of many Sherwood parents, the life stories of Benjamin Soto, 51, and his wife, Oliva Resenaiz, 38, are told in their hands.
Mr. Soto completed sixth grade in Mexico; his wife stopped with fifth. The family lives in a landlord’s afterthought of a house down a dirt drive. A garden brimming with vegetables and a homemade swing beneath the avocado tree perk up the modest home. Though Oscar Soto does his homework on a plastic storage bin, he is one of Mr. Ramos’s most gifted students, able to solve complex math problems in his head.
When Mr. Soto wants to encourage his son to work harder in Mr. Ramos’s class, he displays his hands, thick with calluses, his thumb and forefinger permanently crooked from years of gripping a field knife.
“It shows him what a hard life he’d have,” Mr. Soto said.
Rocia Picazo, whose daughter Sara is in Mr. Ramos’s class, leaves at 5 a.m. to pack romaine. Her face is barely visible beneath the protective gear that shields her from the chlorine used to sanitize lettuce.
She was shocked to learn that Sara’s teacher had labored in the fields, picking chilies, walnuts, apricots and lettuce. “I see his face and his hands, and I never imagined he’d do that kind of work,” Mrs. Picazo said.
The $394 million federal Migrant Education Program, created in the 1960s, provides health care, summer school and tutoring for migrant children. Still, nearly half do not complete high school. California has about 200,000 children in the program, one-third of the national total.
Sherwood’s migrant student population dropped 10 percent last year, in part because other crops are providing year-round employment. In addition, said Rosa E. Coronado, the migrant education director for Monterey County, “Parents are getting the message that it’s not beneficial for the children to move around so much.”
One boy in Mr. Ramos’s class did not attend school for five months. He spent his time on PlayStation. This year, his father will move for work. But his mother is staying in Salinas, worried, she said, that “my son is falling behind.”
Families may also be more hesitant to uproot because of the immigration climate. Measures proposed in Arizona recently would deny education to illegal immigrants and require proof of citizenship to enroll in public and private school. The Supreme Court has ruled that every child is entitled to a public education.
Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, who introduced a bill to repeal “birthright” citizenship, said that conferring automatic citizenship and educating children of people who are here illegally is a “misapplication” of the 14th Amendment.
“I don’t think lawbreakers should be rewarded,” said Mr. King, the vice chairman of the House immigration subcommittee.
For families in East Salinas, disparities in opportunity come down to education. Terri Dye, the principal of Sherwood Elementary, said the trick was “understanding where the students come from but also having high expectations.”
And so at 6:45 a.m., Mr. Ramos can be found stapling “Student of the Month” notices to the class bulletin board.
There are signs of progress in Room 21: last year, 13 students moved up a level in math, surpassing the state average. During reading vocabulary exercises, hands are raised often, accompanied by exuberant shouts of “Mr. Ramos, I’ve got it!”
Outside the classroom one recent morning, Melissa Aledo described a change she had noticed in her son, Paul Gray.


Child labour rescue team attacked, four hospitalized in India

[from The Press Trust of India]

Several activists of a city-based child rights NGO were today allegedly attacked and severely beaten up by some people while they were trying to rescue child labourers.

A group of “traffickers” allegedly attacked workers of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) with knives and iron rods in Khureji area of east Delhi and forcibly took away some child labourers they had rescued from there.

Four BBA workers were hospitalised with serious injuries to stomach, head and chest, Kailash Satyarthi, founder of the NGO, said. The attackers also threatened him with a gun.

BBA regularly gives tip-off to police and labour department about child labourers being engaged in manufacturing units in the city. Satyarthi said several such incidents targeting them have occurred in recent months.

“A mob of hundreds had gathered there.


Global March condemns attack on Child Rights activists in Delhi

Global March has learned that Chairperson Kailash Satyarthi and four other child rights activists have been injured during a rescue effort to save child bonded labourers from zari embroidery units in an area of New Delhi, India. The BBA rescue team, led by BBA Founder Kailash Satyarthi, was attacked by a group of local people and employers, some armed with knives. The four injured members of the rescue team have been hospitalised and two vehicles were also damaged in the attack.

BBA had secured the release of children through the appropriate legal channels and the rescue team was accompanied by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Gandhinagar. However, the police presence, consisting of only three officers and no senior officer, was too small given the sensitivity of the area and the tensions that were running high on the street. BBA had informed the police well in advance of the rescue attempt to try and ensure an adequate police presence for protection not only of its own team, but also the children being rescued.

Hundreds of people gathered as the rescue team emerged from the work premises with the children to transport them to safety and freedom. It was at this point that the group was attacked and the children were snatched away from the rescue team. The three police officers were overwhelmed and could not control the mob, becoming mere spectators of the violent attack. This is the third time in a span of five months and second time this week that BBA teams have been attacked during rescue operations. In addition, the BBA office was broken into and ransacked in November 2010.

Speaking following the attack, Kailash Satyarthi said: “Thousands of children are trafficked and enslaved in the capital of Delhi. In spite of strong directions by the Delhi High Court, human rights activists are attacked indiscriminately and are unable to gain cooperation from law enforcement agencies. The employers concerned and some sections of society appear to believe themselves to be above the law and carry out these attacks without fear of retribution.”

He continued: “These attacks are becoming more violent and more frequent and this cannot be allowed to continue. Human rights defenders need to be protected in their work. BBA will continue its important work to tackle child exploitation wherever it occurs and to work towards a society where children can live in freedom and safety and benefit from their fundamental rights. We will not be deterred in our mission by mindless violence and ignorance and we call on like-minded organisations around the world and all decent members of society to support global efforts to end child enslavement and child labour.”

For more information

Abha Khanna
Communication Officer
Global March Against Child Labour International Secretariat


Iran ‘Using Child Soldiers’ to Suppress Tehran Protests

By: Robert Tait
The Observer

Iran‘s Islamic regime is using “child soldiers” to suppress anti-government demonstrations, a tactic that could breach international law forbidding the use of underage combatants, human rights activists have told the Observer.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says troops aged between 14 and 16 have been armed with batons, clubs and air guns and ordered to attack demonstrators who have tried to gather in Tehran. The youths – apparently recruited from rural areas – are being deployed in regular riot police roles and comprise up to one-third of the total force, according to witnesses.

One middle-aged woman, who said she was attacked by the youths, reported that some were as young as 12 and were possibly prepubescent. They had rural accents, which indicated they had been brought in from villages far from Tehran, she said.

Some told her they had been attracted by the promise of chelo kebab dinners, one of Iran’s national dishes.

“It’s really a violation of international law. It’s no different than child soldiers, which is the custom in many zones of conflict,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the campaign’s executive director. “They are being recruited into being part of the conflict and armed for it.”

The UN convention on the rights of the child requires states to take “all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 15 years do not take a direct part in hostilities”.

The allegation comes amid efforts by Iran’s opposition Green movement to revive the mass protests that challenged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s re-election in 2009, which opponents say was rigged. Drawing encouragement from the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, organisers have vowed to stage demonstrations every Tuesday.

Protesters who gathered on 1 March and a week later were met by a blanket security presence, which activists say refined the tactics used to crush the post-election revolt, when smaller detachments of youths were used informally by the hardline Basij militia.

Last Tuesday youthful riot squads formed along Valiasr Street, Tehran’s central thoroughfare, and forced pedestrians to run an intimidating gauntlet. Protesters chanting anti-government slogans were attacked. Multiple arrests were reported.

“They are very keen to display violence. Teenage boys are notorious for that,” said Ghaemi. “They are being used to ensure there is a good ratio of government forces to protesters and because the average policeman in Tehran could have some kind of family connection to the people they have to beat up. It’s a classic tactic to bring people from outside, because they have no sense of sympathy for city dwellers.”

The renewed clampdown coincides with concern over the whereabouts of the Green movement’s nominal leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Both were apparently placed under house arrest last month and then reported to have been taken into detention, despite official denials.

Robert Tait is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL and a former Tehran correspondent for the Observer. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011


UN Says Reports of Child Soldiers Being Recruited in Libya

The Canadian Press – ONLINE EDITION

By: The Associated Press

GENEVA – U.N. officials say they are getting reports that child soldiers are being recruited to fight for Moammar Gadhafi loyalists in Libya — which would be a war crime.

UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told The Associated Press on Friday there is “a serious concern” that child soldiers are among the mercenaries that Gadhafi is hiring to attack rebel forces.

The spokeswoman for the U.N. children’s agency said the mercenaries come from Chad, Niger, Central African Republic and Sudan’s Darfur region, which are all places “with known child soldiers.”

The U.N. special envoy for children in armed conflicts, Radhika Coomaraswamy, also says human rights groups and local civilians are providing unconfirmed reports that children are being killed and injured by taking up arms in Libya.


Proposed Changes to Child Labor Law Spark Concern in Maine

[from Lewiston Sun-Journal. 3/10/11] By Steve Mistler, Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Groups representing restaurants and hotels sparred with worker advocates on Wednesday over a bill that would ease work restrictions within the state’s 20-year-old child labor law.

The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, and backed by Gov. Paul LePage. Both believe high school-age students should be allowed to work longer hours and more often during the school year.

Opponents said the proposal would dial back child-labor protections enacted in 1991 to prevent employers from pressuring minors into working longer hours. They also worried the proposal would shift emphasis from education and school-sponsored, extra-curricular activities.

Read more


New Book Provides Recollections of Former Liberian Child Soldiers

University of California/Berkeley Law School’s Web Site

By Andrew Cohen

As a former television producer and humanitarian journalist with extensive experience in Africa, Emily Holland ’12 was no stranger to tales of hardship and devastation. But over the three years she and co-author Agnes Umunna worked on And Still Peace Did Not Come—which reveals haunting, personal recollections of Liberian child soldiers and their victims—Holland admits “not being fully prepared for the emotional impact of these stories.”

From 1989–1996 and 1999–2003, Liberia’s civil war killed more than 200,000 people and displaced a million more. A native Liberian now living in Staten Island, N.Y., Umunna fled to relative safety in Sierra Leone. She later returned and hosted a radio program—during which she interviewed victims, warlords, and government officials—and canvassed ghettos and slums to find former child soldiers. Read more