Of Ships and Men–Cameron Conaway’s Poem about the Children Who Break Ships Apart in Bangladesh

Shipbreaking (Photo by Pierre Torset)

Of Ships and Men


There are ships like hotels horizontal

and there are children and children


breaking, dragging these dead vessels

through beach sand soiled with oil


through the swirling peace rainbows

of slavery, a six month deconstruction


of scrap metal and tiny little lives

scraping by one then two then twenty


broken walls of asbestos at a time

when there is no gear, no gloves


and masks only of signage bold fronted

“No Child Labour, We Take Safety First”


while Nasima, 8, of Chandan Baisha,

tries to hide just beyond the gates.


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Today is the Day to Think about the Plight of the World’s 300,000 Child Soldiers

Today is an important day if you care about the welfare of children. Advocates have named February 12 “International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers” to highlight one of the worst forms of child labor. It’s hard to imagine that in 2013 the use of child soldiers is alive and thriving, but the BBC estimates that there are 300,000 child soldiers internationally. This number includes children of elementary school age who are handed automatic weapons and asked to kill, as well as others who are used for slave labor to support armies. Since January 2011, child soldiers have been used in at least 19 countries.

Many of the children suffer the worst forms of psychological warfare from their captors, who in many cases break them down by forcing them to kill or maim their friends or family. Many girls are sexually assaulted and forced to serve as sexual slaves. Many child victims are given drugs to keep them compliant. Their years of enforced service often produce intense psychological scarring that makes it hard to return to their communities. In some cases, they are shunned by their villages. Hear one girl’s compelling story in this YouTube video.

The Child Labor Coalition has tracked dozens of stories regarding the use of child soldiers over the last year and engages with its members to perform advocacy to reduce the use of child soldiers. Most recently, the warfare in Mali led to the recruitment of child soldiers, including children as young as 12. In early January, the United Nations decried the use of child soldiers in the Central African Republic, and in India, reports emerged that the militant group, the Garo National Liberation Army was using children in a variety of roles to support combat, including possibly the use of armed children. In early December, 2012, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on two “March 23 (M23)” leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for allegedly using child soldiers.

Not all the news has been bad. In June 2012, Burma made significant strides in reducing its use of child soldiers when it released an action plan to tackle the problem. In 2012, Yemeni authorities said they were committed to stopping the use of children in the military.

The challenges governments face to end the use of child soldiers are often formidable, however. A February 6th Huffington Post blog by Jake Scobey-Thal noted that despite some progress, child soldiers are still being used in Burma and cited the International Labour Organization that their numbers may be as high as 5,000.

Two members of the Child Labor Coalition, World Vision and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have been leaders in the effort to pressure the US government into abiding by a congressional law, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which prohibits military aid to countries that use child soldiers. They’ve also provided a valuable service with early warnings when civil strife reaches the point that children begin to be dragged into military conflicts as they have been recently in Mali, Syria and the DRC.

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The CLC’s Open Letter to President Obama on His Next Secretary of Labor

January 30, 2013


Dear Mr. President:

The members of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), representing millions of Americans through unions, human rights organizations, and socially-responsible investment organizations, write in regard to the pending nomination of Secretary of Labor. We urge you to select a nominee who will make protecting children here in the U.S. and abroad a priority—just as Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis has done.

We believe all working youth deserve the strongest labor, health and safety protections. Yet today, children who work in U.S. agriculture do not enjoy the same protections as children who work in other industries, despite the industry’s high injury and fatality rates. Youth working for wages on farms are permitted to work at younger ages, for longer hours, and under more hazardous conditions.

An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 children work for wages in the fields each year. Many children migrate with their parents each year. The impact of migration on the education of farmworker children is often profound, as migrant students are often forced to miss or repeat classes and suffer other educational disruptions. More than half of migrant children will not finish high school, and fewer still will go on to college, trapping most farmworker children in a cycle of poverty.

The next Secretary of Labor has the opportunity to improve child safety in the workplace and ensure that children, regardless of their socio-economic status, have an opportunity at fulfilling their full potential by working hard in school and not in the fields.  Internationally, child labor on farms is responsible for over 60 percent of all child labor and exposes a disproportionate number of child workers to hazardous work.

We ask that the nominee demonstrate:

  • A deep concern about the plight of migrant farmworker families, especially the children who toil in U.S. fields.
  • A determination to seek creative avenues toward ending discrimination in U.S. child labor law and the inequalities that confront children who work in U.S. agriculture.
  • A desire to protect children who work in the United States from the most hazardous forms of employment, especially in agriculture.
  • An understanding that children and immigrant populations are extremely vulnerable to exploitation, including child labor and human trafficking.
  • A commitment to increase child labor enforcement efforts.
  • A willingness to seek creative solutions in addressing the worst forms of child labor internationally.
  • An eagerness to consult with the NGO community to improve child labor remediation efforts here and abroad.

We respectfully ask you to give these criteria full consideration, and urge you to nominate an individual as Secretary who will work to protect our nation’s greatest and most precious asset—children.