Risky Decision: Young Immigrants Sometimes Must Choose Between Work and School

BY John Cox Californian staff writer 

Armando Ramirez was about 14 years old when he left his home in southern Mexico to find work in California.

First he and his 20-year-old brother went to Salinas to apply for a job harvesting broccoli alongside their mother. But while the older brother was hired, family members said, Armando was turned down on account of his age.

About a year ago, the brothers moved to the Arvin-Lamont area. And that’s where Armando found the composting job that took his life.

Although his work papers said he was 30 at the time of his death on Oct. 12, Armando was only 16.

His case highlights the plight of immigrants who come to the United States as minors not to get an education — some have no idea of a diploma’s value — but because family poverty forces them into an illegal arrangement sometimes condoned with a wink and a nod. Read more


Maid Firm Exposed

Yi Somphose, Tep Nimol, David Boyle and Eak Soung Chhay

Scores of crying women who said they had been forcibly detained and girls who claimed to have received fake documents to conceal the fact that they were as young as 16-years-old were discovered at a centre owned by the SKMM Investment Group labour recruitment firm yesterday.

A group of 47 women told a Post reporter some 20 under-age girls had been hidden at a restaurant to conceal them from police, while eyewitnesses outside another SKMM facility said they had seen recruits jumping out of windows to escape.

With tears pouring down her cheeks, 29-year-old Dam Nhean said SKMM staff told her that if she wanted to leave the centre to visit her baby, she would have to repay by double the US$800 loan she was given, reiterating claims made by many of the recruits. Read more


Rampant Child Labor Goes Unaddressed in Kashmir

By Sana Altaf [from] India

SRINAGAR, (IPS) – Fourteen-year-old Shafat Ahmad works as a domestic helper in the house of a Srinagar-based government employee in Kashmir. His younger sister embroiders shawls in an unregistered textile venture in her native village of Beeru.

“When my father first brought me here, my employer promised to send me to school,” Shafat told IPS. Though he is keen to pursue his education, he has yet to attend a single class.

The Ahmed siblings’ story is just one among thousands, as increasing numbers of children across the Kashmir Valley become mired in a child labor epidemic that strips them of their childhood and the chance for a decent education.

Kashmir’s handicrafts industry, which has long served as the backbone of the state economy, has recently gained more sinister recognition as one of the state’s leading employers of child laborers.

A prominent sociologist, B.A. Dabla, told IPS that the shawl industry was a particularly ravenous employer of children, especially young girls, whose small hands are useful for the intricate work of shawl making. Read more


Protest Targets Candy Maker

A coalition accuses The Hershey Co. of refusing to commit to buying cocoa produced without child or forced labor

Staff Writer

At the height of the Halloween candy-buying season, The Hershey Co. is being accused by a coalition of environmental and human-rights groups of refusing to commit to buying cocoa produced without child labor or forced labor.

Hershey is vigorously defending its cocoa-purchasing practices.

According to, more than 30,000 consumers have signed an online petition protesting Hershey’s policies.

“A decade ago, Hershey signed an agreement to help fight child slavery and other abuses in the cocoa industry,” Elizabeth O’Connell, a member of the Raise the Bar, Hershey! Coalition, said in a news release. “Yet it has done far less than other chocolate companies to address these abuses.” Read more


Uzbekistan: EU Parliamentarians Reject Textile Deal With Uzbekistan

October 5, 2011 – 3:06pm, by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick [Source:]

European Union parliamentarians have rejected a trade deal that would have eased Uzbekistan’s export of textiles to Europe, citing the use of forced child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry, Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe reported.

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament voted unanimously against the inclusion of textiles in the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), the pact that has governed EU-Uzbek trade since 1999. The vote prevented a lowering of tariffs on EU imports of Uzbek cotton, which make up at least 25 percent of Uzbekistan’s exports.

The language of the legislation now stipulates that the inclusion of textiles “should only be put to the vote by Parliament after international observers, and in particular the International Labor Organization (ILO), have been granted by the Uzbek authorities close and unhindered monitoring.”

The Uzbek government has failed to invite the ILO to inspect cotton fields during the harvest season, despite calls from employers and unions at the ILO annual meeting as well as human rights groups.

In February, the European Council approved an amendment to the PCA, extending the customs and tariffs breaks to Tashkent. But the European Parliament had yet to approve it, and it still had to go through committees.

EU members of parliament became concerned about increasing reports of the exploitation of children in the cotton harvest. A coalition of international labor and human rights organizations, joined with Uzbek human rights groups working both inside the country and in exile, have been advocating for some years with MEPs to try to stop forced child labor, especially after Uzbekistan ratified the ILO convention against the worst forms of child labor in 2009.

Read more


Darfurian Armed Group Commits to Not Using Child Soliders

Thursday, 6 October 2011, 1:23 pm
Source: UN News

Darfurian Armed Group Makes Commitment to UN to Stop Using Child Soldiers

New York, Oct 5 2011 – A faction of one of the armed groups in Darfur has agreed to prohibit the use of child soldiers in its ranks after discussions with the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Sudanese region (UNAMID), the mission reported today.

The Sudan Liberation Army’s Historical Leadership, a breakaway group of the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdel Wahid (SLA/Abdel Wahid), submitted an action plan to the UN through Ibrahim Gambari, the AU-UN Joint Special Representative and head of UNAMID, on 25 September committing to end recruitment and use of child soldiers in compliance with Security Council resolutions on children and armed conflict.

The group’s leader, Usman Musa, had in August issued a command order to his faction’s members to stop “recruiting and using children in the ranks of the movement.” His order also prohibited attacks on schools and hospitals and “all behaviour that leads to abuse and violence against children, including sexual abuse and forced marriage.”

Read more


Meet the Child Workers Who Pick Your Food

—By Tom Philpott [Mother Jones]

Agriculture tends to cling to certain practices long after the rest of society as discarded them as morally repugnant.

You might think slavery ended after the Civil War, yet it exists to this day in Florida’s tomato fields, as Barry Estabrook demonstrates in his brilliant book Tomatoland .Likewise, the practice of subjecting children to hard, hazardous, and low-paid labor seems like a discarded relic of Dickens’ London or Gilded Age New York. But here in the United States, hundreds of thousands of kids are doing one of our most dangerous jobs: farm work. They toil under conditions so rough that Human Rights Watch (HRW) has seen fit two issue two damning reports (here and here) on the topic over the past decade.

In the second report, from May 2010, the group concluded: “Shockingly, we found that conditions for child farmworkers in the United States remain virtually as they were a decade ago.” This is to say – appalling. The kids who pick our crops are routinely exposed to toxic pesticides, their fatality rate is four times that of other working youth, and they are four times more likely to drop out than the average American kid—overall, HRW reports, just a third of farmworker kids finish high school.

Oddly, there’s nothing illegal about their plight—most federal laws governing child labor don’t apply to farms, according to HRW; the US government spends $26 million fighting abusive child labor in other countries, but has failed to bring the fight to America’s fields.

The Harvest/La Cosecha, a new documentary directed by the veteran photographer and human rights advocate U. Roberto Romano, shines a bright light on this murky corner of the agribusiness universe. The film traces the lives of three teenagers and their families as they move across the US following the harvest, from Texas onion fields to Michigan apple groves and places in between.

I was lucky enough to attend a one-off showing at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, California, one of the nation’s last great cinema temples. Romano’s work is worthy of the big screen—he has a great eye for the spare, monotonous beauty of monocropped fields baking in the sun. We get wide views of them, and their vast expanse seems on the verge of swallowing the kids whole as they pluck fruit after fruit. At other times Romano’s lens zooms in to show the field from the kids’ perspective: the rows that seem to stretch away to the horizon.

Rather than wagging a finger, Romano lets the kids and the families speak for themselves. We see them cooking dinner, squabbling, dealing with the wrenching act of packing up and moving on for the millionth time. They then take to the road in stuffed, beat-up trucks, in pursuit of the next harvest.

The featured kids, two girls and a boy ranging from 12 to 14 years old, are bright and articulate. They’re smart enough to realize they’re getting a raw deal, that their itinerant lives are harder and more complicated than those of the classmates they’re always being wrenched away from at school. Their parents, hyper-focused on keeping the family fed and whole, yet breaking down physically from the rigors of the field, offer a future their children can neither embrace nor easily escape.

As one of the girls, 14-year-old Perla Sanchez, tells Romano, we can’t study and graduate high school because we have to work—and we have to work in the fields because we’re not properly educated.

It’s a vicious cycle, and the film offers no way out. And really, there is no way easy way out—without out a high-school diploma, the farm kids face abysmal job prospects in the best of times, let alone the current job market. The kids in the film are right: They’ve been dealt the hand of poverty.

The only way to give them a fair shake is to improve pay for farm workers. None of the families depicted in The Harvest, as  the film makes clear, would subject their kids to lives of field labor if they weren’t desperate for money. A generation is being sacrificed to feed us cheaply, and it’s about time someone paid attention.

Here’s the trailer. You can catch The Harvest online at


Peru sex slavery: Police free 300 women, including minors, in Amazon

[Source BBC News Oct. 4, 2011]

More than 400 police took part in the three-day operation

Police in Peru say they have rescued nearly 300 women from sexual exploitation in a raid in the country’s Amazon region.

At least four people were arrested in Puerto Maldonado on suspicion of human trafficking.

Among those rescued from about 50 brothels were at least 10 minors – the youngest was a 13-year-old girl.

More than 400 police took part in the three-day operation in the region, known for its illegal gold mining.

Read more


Child slavery bust in Vietnam

[from AFP, September 30, 2011 4:52PM]

TWENTY three children and young adults rescued from slave labour in a garment factory by Vietnamese authorities with the help of an Australian-run children’s charity have arrived in Hanoi.

Vietnamese government officials and police from the victims’ home region, with help from the charity Blue Dragon, raided the factory in Ho Chi Minh City. The owners have been arrested and are awaiting trial.

The victims, aged from ten to 21, are from the Kho Mu ethnic group, in Dien Bien province in Vietnam’s far northwest. Some of them had been working for up to two years as slave labour in the garment business.

Tired but happy, the children relaxed for an hour at Noi Bai airport before boarding a bus for the 12-hour journey home to their villages.

The group are told AAP they were looking forward to returning to their families.

“I felt so homesick, living in Saigon,” said 12-year-old Trang.
He was taken by car from his small village of 35 households and brought to Saigon, where he worked cutting cloth and was regularly beaten, he said.

He couldn’t estimate how many hours he worked as he can’t read a clock.

Gazing fixedly at his can of Fanta, he said he wanted to get home to his parents and six younger brothers and family farm.

Ta Ngoc Van, a lawyer with Blue Dragon, travelled to the remote villages of Da Lech and Co Nghiu some weeks ago following up a tip from a contact in the Ministry of Public Security about rumours of missing children.

He found some families hadn’t seen their children in two years.

They’d been approached by traffickers who promised their children well-paid and comfortable jobs in Ho Chi Minh City.

After receiving almost no money and no contact, the families were desperate. Investigations by Blue Dragon, experienced in saving children from garment factories, and Vietnamese officials located the children.

Michael Brosowski, the Australian founder of the charity, said local authorities were extremely interested in combating child trafficking.

Legislation in Vietnam, however, needs to catch up.

Vietnam is rated as a Tier 2 Watch List nation in a worldwide report on human trafficking released by the US State Department this year.

Most human trafficking recognised by the government and NGOs related to cross-border trafficking, often for sex work.

Internal trafficking, usually for labour, is harder to define and rarely prosecuted. According to the US report, no one was prosecuted for trafficking persons in Vietnam last year.

“It’s not sexy enough (as an issue) compared to sex trafficking,” said Brosowski.

“But labour trafficking can be hideous as well. These children lose years of their lives,” he said.

According to the State Department report, Vietnam’s legal structure is ill-suited to support the identification and prosecution of trafficking cases.

As internal trafficking can be hard to prove, some cases are prosecuted under labour laws instead.
Authorities have not yet said how they plan to prosecute this case.


Asia Leads World in Child-Labor Products: US Report


WASHINGTON – India, Bangladesh and the Philippines lead the world in the number of products made by child workers, a US government stock-taking of the global scale of underaged labor revealed Monday.

Some 130 types of goods – from building bricks and soccer balls to pornography and rare ores used in cellphones – involve child labor in 71 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the Department of Labor said.

“We believe that we all have God-given potential … and every child should be given the right to fulfil their dreams,” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis at the release of the 10th annual “Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.”

Focusing this year on hazardous work performed by children, and relying in good part on International Labor Organization data, the report examines efforts by more than 140 countries to address the worst forms of child labor.

The International Labor Organization estimates that more than 215 million children are involved in child labor.

One-third of countries have yet to define hazardous kinds of work prohibited to children, it said. Some nations have no minimum age for such work, and still more lack the means to monitor and enforce bans on dangerous child labor.

A rundown of goods produced by child labor, issued alongside the report, underlined the degree to which youngsters in developing nations are forced to work, rather than go to school, for little if any wages.

India topped the list, with its children being used to make no fewer than 20 products, including bidis, bricks, fireworks, footwear, glass bangles, incense, locks, matches, rice, silk fabric and thread, and soccer balls.

India also led a separate list of products made by forced or indentured child labor – seven types of goods in all, including carpets, embroidered textiles and garments.

In Bangladesh, children produced 14 kinds of goods, many of them of an industrial nature, such as bricks, footwear, steel furniture, leather, matches, and textiles including jute.

In the Philippines, children took part in the production of bananas, coconuts, corn, fashion accessories, gold, hogs, pornography, pyrotechnics, rice, rubber, sugar cane and tobacco.

The Department of Labor announced Monday a $15 million grant to the World Vision charity “to address the worst forms of child labor in sugar cane production” in the Philippines.

Sandra Polaski, deputy undersecretary for international affairs at the Department of Labor, told AFP that India’s place atop the child-labor table reflected its billion-plus population, and not neglect of the issue.

“India is one of the two largest countries in the world, and so the larger the country, if there is significant poverty, you would expect to see more” child labor, she told AFP.

“The Indian government is the first to say they have to find more ambitious ways” of tackling the problem, she said, adding that New Delhi took a big step in 2010 when elementary education was made compulsory across the country.

Worldwide, Polaski said, the United States expects to see an uptick in the use of child labor as a consequence of the economic slump of 2008 from which the world has yet to re-emerge.

“We expect that some more children have fallen back into child labor,” she said. “As households have been pushed in some countries below the poverty line, they’ve made up the difference (in income) with child labor.”

Child labor remains in much of Latin America, but Polaski welcomed signs of progress – particularly in Brazil where child labor persists in agriculture, but poverty-fighting policies are showing results.

In Africa, children are working at mines in Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly at those producing cassiterite and coltan – both used in the assembly of mobile phones – and wolframite, used for tungsten steel.