The image of a little girl on the documentary front cover of “Stolen Childhoods” could save 287 million children laborers by educating the public, said three expert panelists at a conference April 22 in the University Student Union Northridge Center.
About eight years ago, Len Morris, producer of “Stolen Childhoods,” said he did not know anything about child labor until Robin Romano, the film’s director of photography, sent him stills of a 9-year-old bonded slave child laborer who had excess clay on her hands from a day’s work.
Morris decided at that moment that he would educate himself and others about child labor by filming the documentary.
The conference, titled “Child Labor: Reaching Out to Make a Difference,” was sponsored by the Department of Child and Adolescent Development, where Morris, Pharis Harvey, senior consultant of the International Labor Rights Fund, and Scott Plunkett, professor of the Family and Consumer Sciences department, discussed child labor issues.
In the first phases of the conference, “Stolen Childhoods” was viewed in its entirety, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said it is imperative to get these children the necessary education to combat their unfortunate circumstances.
“This is the breeding ground for Osama bin Laden’s army and for future terrorists,” Harkin said in the documentary. “If we want a secure future for America and the world, it’s not going to be enough to go bomb Saddam Hussein, or to get him out of power. If we don’t get these kids into school and get them a decent education, we’re going to have more terrorism in the future.”
In filming “Stolen Childhoods,” Morris said he wanted to address the human scale of the problem and put a human face on the issue.
“We really wanted to show that this problem is worldwide, including here in the United States,” Morris said.
The documentary was shot in eight countries, including Brazil, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan and the United States.
Footage of scavengers looking in dump sites turns deadly, a runaway 15-year-old girl explained how she was forced into prostitution on the streets of Mexico City, and video of child farm workers who often develop serious illnesses, including brain damage and cancer from pesticides, were just some of the malaise shown in “Stolen Childhoods.”
“I could’ve stayed on the road and filmed for the rest of my natural life to continue to film ‘Stolen Childhoods,’ ” Morris added that he had over 400 hours of footage.
After the documentary aired, Harvey discussed the political and economic realms of child labor.
“The cycle of poverty that results from low self-esteem (and) low expectation leads to desperation in families, generation after generation,” Harvey said.
Economic desperation makes parents or guardians more likely to encourage the child to work at an early age, he said.
“My experience tells me that most mothers or fathers (who) would send the daughter in to a home to be a house maid in some rich family do not understand at all the conditions that the child will be subjected to,” Harvey said. “Because those parents are also the generations of deprivation.”
He also said the discrepancies of child labor boy-to-girl ratios are inaccurate.
“Statistics tend to show that a majority of child laborers are boys,” he said. “(However) it is that boys tend to work in more visible environments and girls tend to work in places that are less visible, whether it is in the sex industry or as a house maid.”
Plunkett expressed similar sentiments.
Plunkett said people who have been sexually or physically abused are likely to continue a cycle of abuse.
He said physical abuse may be an unconscious decision, but sexual abuse is a conscious one.
“Society that puts a low value on females in general will see a high increase in sexual abuse,” Plunkett said.
After the discussion among the three panelists, the audience broke off into three separate groups to find solutions to child labor.
Joannie Aguayo, facilitator of one of the groups, gave several ideas to combat child labor.
She said protesting or writing a letter to a local politician can make the government become more involved with the issue. Aguayo said her vision is to start a child advocacy group at CSUN to decrease child labor.
“We’re a force to be reckoned with,” Aguayo said.
April Fong, junior child development major, was one of the audience members participating in the group discussions.
“What we could do is watch out for products that we’re buying,” Fong said. “We should look on Web sites that tell us where our products come from.”
More than half the audience were women, including special guests Becca Doten and Fortuna Ippoliti, Los Angeles Mayor representative, Fong asked the audience, “How can society get more males to help out in the child labor cause?”
“The one thing you could do is push more males in being aware,” Fong said. “Men need to be more involved than what is out here.”
The panel said they have furthered the cause but know that child labor will continue to be an ongoing battle.
“It does matter what we do,” Morris said to close out the conference. “It certainly mattered to” the little girl on the cover of “Stolen Childhoods.”
Arthur Vong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.