Posts Tagged ‘Social Norms’

I’m touching this with a 10 foot pole

Friday, August 31st, 2012

SLAVERY - RESTAVEKChild labor is an issue that unfortunately still exists in many parts of the world. I wish everyone were equal. But, we’re not.

I’ve been having the debate about child servitude for many years. Child labor is still a huge issue in Haiti, where even if the government put a stop to it tomorrow, we would be left with the issue of hundreds of thousands of children who have nowhere to go.

This issue isn’t as black and white as I wish – at least not for me. Obviously, I am against any forced labor (for anyone) and any form of abuse. The reason why eliminating child labor is a sticky topic, at least in Haiti is that there are families who really think that they are helping. The rationale is that if they didn’t “take these children in”, they would be starving and in must worse conditions. This is not always true. There’s also the issue that culturally Haitian children, whether they are with family or not, tend to have a lot of chores. The idea of women having a lot of children is so that they will have help – both immediately and in the future when the child is a working adult.

Up until about 10 years ago, my family had a “restavek” who lived with my grandmother for about 5 years – we’ll call her Marie. We knew her family through the maid who had been working with us for 20 years. When she came to live with my grandmother at the request of her mother, her family was no longer able to send her to school (she was about 9 years old) and was struggling to feed her. They knew that my grandmother lived alone and needed help around the house, especially in the evening when the maid left for the day. So, on the surface it seemed to make sense. Now, I must say that Marie was never abused or mistreated (she was considered family), was clothed, fed and sent to school while living with us; all things her parents said they were unable to do. However, I still don’t think that it is or was okay to make this deal and here’s why:

Had there been other children her in age in the home who were blood related, Marie would have had to carry the brunt of the work.

She would have most likely felt more like a servant than someone carrying her fair share.

I can’t imagine how Marie must have felt being handed over so easily by her parents – even if she did see them often.

Marie eventually moved back home when my grandmother moved to the states and soon after became a teen mother. I can’t help wonder if she felt rejection from us, too.

This was only the situation in my house, but I know that many other children are in dire circumstances. I even know of cases where children were adopted, after being sold by their parents – to foreigners. I remember a CNN reporter went to Port-au-Prince and was able to purchase a child in fewer than 12 hours. The problem is grave.

While I still can’t come up with a simple strategy of how to break the supply and demand cycle of child labor in Haiti (we have to think about the aftermath, as well), I have decided that it will never be okay to have a child in my care under those circumstances. Since foster parenting doesn’t exist in Haiti, adoption would be my only choice and there would never be an expectation that the child “earn” his or her keep. What has become black and white to me on this issue is that children deserve to be children…no matter what.

N.B. This topic came to mind when I wrote about the service sector in the developing world.

Service with a smile

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Rickshaw in MirpurYesterday, I watched a very interesting discussion develop on Twitter regarding those who serve in other countries. The tweets were sort of all over the place with about 4 main people involved, so instead of posting a screenshot I’ll try and summarize.

A young woman posts a picture of herself on a small boat being rowed by a Haitian man (his health, happiness, etc. were all debated from this picture) with a caption about how she was felt blissful.

Someone replied that she was sure the guy rowing didn’t feel the same.

Someone else replied – why should he, he’s working.

And from there the debate was developed into what we (those of us who are not living on a $1 a day) should feel bad about paying for, with the other side saying a job is a job and every person has a right and duty to earn a living (regardless of living conditions). Oddly enough, this argument reminded me of an episode of Downton Abbey where the cousin, who was considered middle-class because he was a lawyer, complained about the excessive help. He didn’t want a servant to help him get dressed or serve his every whim. He felt that they must have better things to do and couldn’t possibly enjoy doing that type of work. The uncle (aristocrat) pointed out that this was their job. If you didn’t let them do it, they were then unemployed. Which do you think they prefer…

I thought that this was a good point and even though society has changed, this is something you face all the time living as an expat in Asia, Latin America and Africa. For expatriates, you struggle with the idea of paying what you feel is a pitance for a service from someone you feel “needs help”. I think there are several things to consider when having these thoughts. First, the majority of the world does not have the same lifestyle as Americans/Europeans. There’s no point in trying to compare. Second, finding pride in earning a living is something that is universal. Don’t assume that because it’s work that you wouldn’t do that someone else won’t enjoy doing it. Third, we are not all equal – hence, the laws that exist to try to ensure we have equal opportunities. Not all of us are meant to have office jobs, earn six figures or be homeowners. And that’s okay. Those things are not directly related to your overall happiness.

I could go on and on about this topic, because it’s such a gray area. What do you think about this dichotomy? Are you okay with paying a fraction of the cost for the same service in poorer parts of the world? Or, do you try to ensure a more balanced standard of living?

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