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Child Labour controversy at charity

Child Labour controversy at charity

A personal view by Peter Law, marketing director of SOS Children. The "Our Africa" project is supposed to be about Africa's children filming their lives around them. When that is children labouring in a field how much should we investigate or judge?

More cause to pause and think has come out of the Our Africa project. Following the discussion about whether we should include Ugandan children's views on the death penalty for homosexuality, the most recent debate we have had concerns uploads of video showing children working in cotton fields in Mali.


One of the team here has questioned whether we should be using it. She wonders, hopefully, whether the children are doing it ‘after school’ and therefore for a bit of spare pocket money.

They may have been, but I doubt it. The truth is child labour – in cotton fields and in far worse environments – is commonplace, whatever good-intention laws various African governments seek to apply.

Of course, we’d all want all African children to get a good education. And those fortunate enough to arrive in SOS Children’s Villages, often after a terrible start in life, get just that. But they’re the exceptions. For the most part, children earn what they can, wherever they can, to keep their families from starving. And who can blame them, or their parents, for that? It’s reality.

It’s a bit like saying we don’t want trees cut down in the Amazon rainforest. Great if you live in the West. Not so great if you depend on tree-felling for the food on your table.

Of course, there are degrees and shades of grey. For example, in Malawi for ‘Our Africa’ our child reporters visited a tobacco factory. We spent hours, literally, talking them into the building because a few weeks before a TV crew had been let in (by mistake). They were putting together a documentary on child labour in the tobacco industry – where children die as a result of nicotine poisoning. That would take some condoning.

But picking cotton or starving may be a different matter.

Whatever we think of issues with Westernised eyes, if we are to get a better insight into this extraordinary evolving continent, and its many countries and cultures, we cannot shield ourselves from the sensitivities of reality when they conflict with our moral judgements.

See what you think: www.our-africa.org
Then let me or our chief executive know (Peter or Andrew at soschildren.org)